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Belgian Police Launch Searches After Deadly Attacks In Brussels

Dozens Killed In Brussels Airport And Metro Attacksi
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March 22, 2016
Brussels was in lockdown after two explosions reportedly killed at least 13 people at the Belgian capital's airport. Another explosion hit a metro station near European Union headquarters in the center of Brussels killing at least 15. (AP/Reuters/Social Media)
WATCH: Brussels was in lockdown after two explosions reportedly killed at least 13 people at the Belgian capital's airport. Another explosion hit a metro station near European Union headquarters in the center of Brussels killing at least 15. (AP/Reuters/Social Media)
By RFE/RL

BRUSSELS -- Belgium is observing three days of mourning after three bomb blasts in Brussels killed at least 31 people and wounded 270.

Twin explosions at Zaventem airport and another at a metro station on March 22 were claimed by the Islamic State extremist group.

The federal prosecutor said on March 23 that two brothers -- Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui -- carried out the suicide bombings at the airport and on the subway. One of them left a will on a computer that was found.

Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said two other suspects captured on CCTV at the airport have yet to be identified.

Hundreds of people gathered in a historic city square overnight, lighting candles and placing flowers in a vigil for the victims. A minute of silence will be held at midday.

Belgian officials have increased security and launched searches around the country after the attacks, which were claimed by the extremist group Islamic State. 

Live Blog: Brussels Attacks

Belgium raised its terror alert to its highest level and dispatched 225 extra troops to Brussels following what Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called "violent, cowardly" terrorist attacks.

More than 180 people were reported wounded in the attacks, with Health Minister Maggie de Block saying many were in serious condition.

Belgian security forces conducted raids in the Schaerbeek area of the Belgian capital and reportedly found explosives and an Islamic State (IS) flag. 

A medical worker removes a victim of the attacks outside the Maalbeek subway station on March 23.
A medical worker removes a victim of the attacks outside the Maalbeek subway station on March 23.

An Islamic State website said its "soldiers of the caliphate" had carried out the attack.

AMAQ, a news agency affiliated with Islamic State extremists, carried the claim of responsibility.

"Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital Brussels," it said.

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the "outrageous attacks against innocent people, and EU leaders expressed anger over what Sweden's prime minister called an "attack against democratic Europe."

Public transport was shut down in Brussels, incoming planes and trains were diverted, and authorities urged residents to "stay where you are." EU personnel were instructed to remain indoors, and flags outside the European Commission flew at half-staff.
 
EU President Donald Tusk said, "These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence."

Photos posted on the Internet showed gruesome scenes of damage and destruction at the airport.

A security worker who helped carry the bodies of victims outside told Reuters that some of them had "their legs destroyed, as if the bomb came from a piece of luggage" on the floor.

The Belgian authorities released this image, which they believe shows three suspected Brussels airport attackers.
The Belgian authorities released this image, which they believe shows three suspected Brussels airport attackers.

Belgium has been in the spotlight since militants living there helped carry out coordinated attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on November 13.

The March 22 blasts came four days after Salah Abdeslam, the chief surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, was captured following after a shoot-out in Brussels. Belgian security forces had been on alert for any reprisal action.

Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur reported that 14 people were killed and 81 wounded at the airport, while others put the death toll there at 11.
 
One witness said the blasts sparked panic as parts of the building collapsed onto travelers.

"When I reached the arrivals hall downstairs, an entire side with glass panes collapsed, downstairs where the taxis are," he told Belgian television channel RTBF. "It was complete chaos. Some women were falling to the ground and crying. It was hell."

Another witness, Zach Mouzoun, told France's BFM television that the second explosion brought down ceilings and "there was blood everywhere."

A doctor who treated 11 of the victims at the Gasthuisberg hospital in Leuven was quoted by Flemish-language broadcaster VTM as saying their wounds suggested at least one of the bombs contained nails. 

Police said a Kalashnikov rifle and an unused explosive were also found at the airport.
 
The Belga news agency reported that the assailants fired shots and shouted words in Arabic before the explosions.
 
Passengers were led onto the tarmac and the Belgian crisis center urged people not to approach the airport.

#JeSuisBruxelles -- The Reaction To The Attacks On Social Media

  • One of the most widely shared memes came from Le Monde cartoonist Plantu, who conflated today's events in Brussels with the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last November that killed 130 people. (Social-media generated content -- @lemondefr)
  • A cartoon showing a grieving Manneken Pis (Social-media generated content, via @hervebaudry)
  • Another popular cartoon. Translation of the French text: Terrorism Strikes Again -- "Could you make a little room for me?!" (Social-media generated content, via @dilemofficiel)
  • Another cartoon referencing Manneken Pis (Social-media generated content, via @MazelGalerie)
  • This cartoon showing Tintin and his dog Snowy in tears was also widely shared on social networks. Translation of French text: Belgium weeps for its children. (Social-media generated content, via @BernardMnich)
  • This cartoon used the Belgian flag as well as traditional Belgian "pommes frites" to make its point. (Social-media generated content, via @ilovebelgium)
  • Another meme that made use of Belgium's national colors (Social-media generated content, via the #JeSuisBruxelles hashtag on Twitter)
  • (Social-media generated content, via @LatuffCartoons)
  • Another image referencing "pommes frites" and the Je Suis Bruxelles ("I am Brussels") meme. (Social-media generated content. This cartoon by Marec in Het Nieuwsblad.)

 
Another explosion then struck the Maalbeek subway station, close to EU institutions, during the morning rush hour.

Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur said at least 20 people died in the blast and 106 others were wounded, including 17 people with critical injuries. 

A survivor fought tears as she told RTBF television about her ordeal.

"There was a big flash of light and the whole carriage exploded. The windows came down on us," she said. "Everyone threw themselves on the ground."
 

Brussels resident Joe Cook, who arrived at the station shortly after the blast, told RFE/RL that he saw commuters "in various states of shock."
 
"Some were stumbling, some were lying down, some were being tended to by passersby and other folk," he said. 

EU Budget Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, who also handles employee and security issues, wrote on Twitter that EU institutions were working together to ensure the security of their staff and urged all EU personnel to "stay home or inside buildings."

Photo Gallery: Brussels Attacks

  • A soldier stands near broken windows after explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016.
  • Damage inside the airport after the explosions.
  • The blasts occurred near the American Airlines counter in the departures lounge.
  • Damage inside the airport after the explosions.
  • Passengers and airport staff are evacuated from the terminal building after the explosions.
  • Passengers leave a metro train between the Arts-Lois and Maelbeek metro stations after an explosion at Maalbeek station in central Brussels.
  • During the evacuation, passengers walk along the underground metro tracks.
  • Damage on the metro after the explosion.
  • Emergency personnel tend injured people after the explosion at Maalbeek station.
  • Belgian policemen and a soldier carrying an injured person after the explosion at Maalbeek station.
  • Police and emergency workers at the metro station.

 

The new attacks sparked outrage and an outpouring of solidarity from world leaders.
 
French President Francois Hollande said "the whole of Europe has been hit," urging the continent to take "vital steps in the face of the seriousness of the threat.”
 
"We are at war," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after a crisis meeting called by Hollande. "We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war."
 
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the blasts were an "attack against democratic Europe."
 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the "despicable attacks" should be met with "determination toward the terrorists."

British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed: "We will never let these terrorists win."

Obama, who was visiting Cuba, said the United States stood "in solidarity" with Belgium.

He pledged that Washington will do "whatever is necessary" to help Belgium bring the perpetrators to justice, adding that the attacks were another reminder that "the world must unite" against the "scourge of terrorism."

People gather around an impromptu memorial in Brussels to pay tribute to the victims of the bombing attacks.
People gather around an impromptu memorial in Brussels to pay tribute to the victims of the bombing attacks.

In Egypt, Sunni Islam's main seat of learning, Al-Azhar, said the attacks "violate the tolerant teachings of Islam." It also urged the world community to confront terrorism.
 
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin "strongly condemned these barbaric crimes."

However, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that what she claimed were the West's "double standards" toward terrorists had led to terrorist attacks in Europe.

Russian Officials Fault The West Over Brussels Blasts

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, tearing up at a joint news conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman, said it was a "very sad day" for Europe.
 
She said it was clear the blasts were attacks that resulted from “radicalization,” and urged leaders in Europe and the Middle East to work together to tackle the problem.
 
Airports across Europe have tightened security.
 
France, which remains in a state of emergency after the November 13 attacks, has also reinforced security on its border with Belgium.

Several landmarks around the world -- including Paris's Eiffel Tower, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, and New York's World Trade Center -- were illuminated in the black, yellow, and red colors of the Belgian flag.

Thousands of people also gathered in Brussels' historic city square, Place de la Bourse, to show support and mourn the victims in the attacks. People surrounded a large chalk message saying, "Brussels I Love You."

​With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Ron Synovitz in Prague, Reuters, AFP, VRT, RTBF, Standard.be, and Hln.be

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