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Brexit campaigners home in on Brussels attacks

[LONDON] Some supporters of the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union claimed the Brussels attacks Tuesday bolstered the case for a UK exit.

Mike Hookem, defence spokesman for the anti-EU, anti-mass immigration UK Independence Party, pointed the finger at the EU's passport-free Schengen zone, which 22 of the 28 EU countries are part of.

"The fact that terrorists can strike at the heart of the EU with apparent ease shows that they are perfectly placed to exploit the lax security situation created by the Schengen agreement and the EU's open-door policies," he said.

Speaking from the European Parliament in Brussels, he claimed thousands of jihadists trained by the Islamic State group were roaming free on the continent.

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"How many more times will innocent people have to suffer at the hands of these animals before the EU realise their policies and their responses to incidents such as this are not working?" he said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was asked about the comments.

"It's not appropriate at this time to make any of those sorts of remarks," he said.

"What we should be doing today is expressing our sympathies and condolences with the people in Belgium."

The bloodshed came four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam - a key suspect in the Paris terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State group.

In a statement posted online, IS claimed responsibility for Tuesday's deadly attacks in the EU's capital.

Britain's three main Leave campaign groups - Grassroots Out, Leave.EU and Vote Leave - did not issue statements about the attacks.

Katie Hopkins, a newspaper columnist who regularly sparks outrage on Twitter with blunt remarks, blamed German chancellor Angela Merkel for inviting in a million refugees, and the "liberal left" that backed the move.

"Next time you hear someone say we are safer in the EU - remember Brussels. Seen as the heart of Europe, it is now jihadi central. #brexit," she wrote on Twitter.

Allison Pearson, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph newspaper, tweeted: "Brussels, de facto capital of the EU, is also the jihadist capital of Europe. And the Remainers dare to say we're safer in the EU! #Brexit".

The comments triggered a backlash on Twitter from people with opposing views.

Britain votes in a referendum on June 23 on whether it should leave the EU or remain a member.