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Update: Explosions hit Brussels airport and metro station, several killed

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 22:09

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Explosions tore through the departure hall of Brussels airport and a Brussels metro station close to EU institutions on Tuesday morning.

[BRUSSELS] Explosions tore through the departure hall of Brussels airport and a Brussels metro station close to EU institutions on Tuesday morning. The explosions killed at least 34 people in apparently coordinated attacks, officials said.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon announced that Belgium’s terror threat had been raised to its highest level.

Both the Brussels' Zaventem Airport and the metro system have been shut. 

The Belgian news agency Belga said shots were fired and there were shouts in Arabic shortly before the explosions in the airport.

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The twin blasts at Brussels airport were probably caused by at least one suicide bomber, a Belgian prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Brussels residents were told to “stay where you are”, while Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo urged people to avoid making calls to stop the city’s mobile networks getting saturated, and to communicate with online messages instead.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said he would chair a crisis response meeting following explosions in Brussels on Tuesday. “I am shocked and concerned by the events in Brussels. We will do everything we can to help,” Mr Cameron said on Twitter, adding that he would chair a meeting of the COBRA response committee. “I will be chairing a COBRA meeting on the events in Brussels later this morning,” he added.

The Belgian authorities urged the media to refrain from reporting on the probe into the triple bomb attacks. “The federal prosecutor notes that certain journalists are reporting information about the investigation underway,” a statement said.  “The federal prosecutor urges the press to immediately refrain from conveying information relative to the investigation so as not to harm the inquiry,” it said.

Elsewhere in Europe, France has decided to deploy 1,600 additional police officers to bolster security at its borders and on public transport following the deadly blasts in Brussels on Tuesday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

The blasts occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of a suspected participant in November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Belgian police had been on alert for any reprisal action.

Social media showed pictures of smoke rising from the departure hall where windows had been shattered by the blasts. Passengers were seen running away down a slipway.

Sky News television's Alex Rossi, at the scene, said he heard two "very, very loud explosions". "I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well...I went towards where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked."

"The thinking here is that it is some kind of terrorist attack - that hasn't been verified by any of the authorities here at the airport." Video showed devastation inside the departure hall with items scattered across the floor.

Belgian media said rail traffic to the airport was suspended. 

Brussels airport said it had cancelled all flights and the complex had been evacuated. Metro operator STIB announced on Twitter that the metro was closing.

Eurostar cancelled trains running to and from Brussels. “No trains are currently running to or from Brussels Midi,” the high speed rail service said on its Twitter feed. “Brussels customers are advised to postpone, and not come to station”.

Thalys, the France-Benelux train operator, said on Tuesday it will shut down its entire network after several bomb blasts in Brussels on Tuesday.  Security has been boosted at all train stations where Thalys trains operate, the company said in a statement. “This means that there will be no Thalys trains.”

Two key railway stations in Brussels will reopen at 1500 GMT to allow for traffic to and from Belgium’s capital, but the central station will remain closed for now in the wake of multiple bomb attacks on the city earlier on Tuesday, police said. Security at the southern and northern Brussels stations will be beefed up with 500 soldiers, the La Libre newspaper said.

The European Commission locked down its staff after the explosions, according to a tweet by the vice president in charge of personnel. A spokesman for officials working in the European Parliament nearby said the legislature was working normally.

Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect for November's Paris attacks on a stadium, cafes and a concert hall, was captured by Belgian police after a shootout on Friday.

Mr Jambon, said on Monday the country was on high alert for a possible revenge attack following the capture of 26-year-old Abdeslam. "We know that stopping one cell can ... push others into action. We are aware of it in this case," he told public radio.

French investigator Francois Molins told a news conference in Paris on Saturday that Abdeslam, a French citizen born and raised in Brussels, admitted to investigators he had wanted to blow himself up along with others at the Stade de France on the night of the attack claimed by Islamic State; but he later backed out.

REUTERS/AFP/BLOOMBERG

 

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