Death Toll Rises to 34 in Brussels Terror Attacks

brussels-terror

A series of deadly terrorist attacks struck Brussels on Tuesday, with two explosions at the city’s main international airport and a third in a subway station at the heart of the city, near the headquarters complex of the European Union.

At least one of the two airport explosions was touched off by a suicide bomber, officials said. At least 34 people were killed — 14 at the airport, and 20 at the subway station — and another 106 people were wounded, including 17 who were reported to be in serious condition.

“We were fearing terrorist attacks, and that has now happened,” Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium said at a news conference, calling the attacks “blind, violent, cowardly.”

On Twitter, he issued an appeal to the population to “avoid all movement,” as the authorities braced for the possibility of additional violence.

The attacks, a vivid illustration of the continued threat to Europe, occurred four days after the capture on Friday of Europe’s most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam. He is the sole survivor of the 10 men believed to have been directly involved in the attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris on Nov. 13.

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President François Hollande of France vowed “to relentlessly fight terrorism, both internationally and internally.” He added: “Through the Brussels attacks, it is the whole of Europe that is hit.”

The French government ordered 1,600 extra police officers to patrol the nation’s borders, including at train stations, airports and ports. The Eiffel Tower was to be lit with the colors of Belgium’s flag on Tuesday night.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain called an emergency meeting of ministers. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany said the attacks “aim at the heart of Europe.” Pope Francis expressed his condolences.

Since the Paris attacks, security experts have warned that Europe was likely to face additional assaults by the Islamic State and by other terrorist groups. The Paris attacks showed that the scale and sophistication of the Islamic State’s efforts to carry out operations in Europe were greater than first believed, and analysts have also pointed to Europe’s particular vulnerabilities. They include the huge flow of undocumented migrants to the Continent from the Middle East last year, the movement of European citizens between their home countries and Syria to fight with the Islamic State, and persistent problems with intelligence sharing among European countries and even between competing security agencies in some nations.

Few countries have been more vulnerable than Belgium. It has an especially high proportion of citizens who have traveled to Iraq, insular Muslim communities that have helped shield jihadists, and security services that have had persistent problems conducting effective counterterrorism operations, not least in its four-month effort to capture Mr. Abdeslam.

The attacks on Tuesday put the Belgian capital in a state of virtual lockdown, with the threat level raised to its highest possible level. Frédéric Van Leeuw, the Belgian federal prosecutor, said that border controls had been strengthened and extra police officers mobilized.

All flights to and from Brussels Airport were canceled for the day, and flights were diverted. Subway, tram and bus travel was shut down. Eurostar canceled its trains connecting Brussels with Paris and London. Thalys, which runs high-speed trains linking dozens of cities in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, suspended service. Cellphone lines were jammed as panicked travelers and Belgians tried to make calls.

The events on Tuesday began with a pair of explosions at a departure hall at Brussels Airport, in the town of Zaventem, about seven miles northeast of the city center, just before 8 a.m.

“We were going to check in around 7:30 a.m.,” said one traveler, Ilaria Ruggiano. “There were seven of us. We were a bit late. We heard a big noise and saw a big flash. My mother went to the floor — she was hit. I just dropped my luggage and went to the floor. A kid came out, bleeding a lot. I tried to help him with a tissue, but it was not enough. There were two bombs.”

Another passenger, Jérôme Delanois, said he was at an Internet cafe near the Delta Air Lines counter when he heard a thunderous noise. “There were two explosions — one big one and one little one,” he said. “The first one blew all the walls and everything. There were burning flames. The first one was bigger. It blew out all the windows.”

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SOURCE: ALISSA J. RUBIN, AURELIEN BREEDEN and ANITA RAGHAVAN
The New York Times