Explosions at the airport and a major subway station in Belgium have killed at least 13 and reportedly as many as 33 people and left dozens more injured, according to initial media and police reports on the attacks.
The first two explosions came at about 9 a.m. local time at Brussels Airport, and were blamed for the 13 deaths. Initial reports say that the blasts followed gunfire and shouts in Arabic.
News reports said one blast came in the check-in area for American Airlines, but the airline denied that in multiple messages on Twitter. American said it’s ticket counter is in row 8, about in the middle of the check in area.
In Brussels, as is the case in many airports, the check in desks are outside airport security checks, meaning the attackers could have brought bombs and guns into the area without being checked.
News reports said that the second explosion came from deeper inside the airport, possibly near a runway, which would be inside the security zone.
Not quite an hour later, a third bomb blast in the Maelbeek subway station reportedly, killing at least 20. The subway stop in central Brussels is near the headquarters for the European Union. In addition to the deaths, there were reports of injuries.
Video footage and photos of the aftermath showed shattered glass,twisted metal and collapsed ceiling tiles in the airport. There were also photos showing blood on the carpets of the check-in area. In one video, people can be seen sprinting away from the airport, many trailing suitcases and wearing backpacks.
The attacks come just days after Salah Abdeslam, 26, the intensely sought surviving terrorist involved in the November attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, was arrested in Brussels. The planning and execution of the Paris attacks have been tied to the Islamic State, and involved both European Union residents who had professed loyalty to the rogue state as well as attackers who’d made their way to Paris from Syria to take part. After the arrest, Belgian officials noted that they were aware of the possibility of reprisal attacks.
Jan Jambon, the Belgian Interior Minister, on Monday told Belgian public radio that Abdeslam’s capture put the country on alert.
“We know that stopping one cell can push others into action,” he said in that interview. “We are aware of it in this case.”
And on Sunday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, noted Abdeslam had warned he had been planning an attack in Brussels.
“He was ready to restart something in Brussels, and it may be the reality because we have found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons, in the first investigations and we have found a new network around him in Brussels,” he said.
Abdeslam, who was injured while being arrested last week, has since told investigators that his original plan for the November attacks had been to kill himself by detonating the suicide vest he was wearing. He said he had planned to kill himself at the Stade de France, the national soccer stadium where three other attackers detonated their vests, killing one innocent passerby.
Experts believe that attack had been intended as a signature attack, coming while 80,000 people, including the French President Francois Hollande, were watching a game between France and Germany. But the attackers were stopped at security checkpoints and detonated without their desired effect.
After his arrest, Abdeslam told French security officials that he changed his mind at the last minute and fled.
In the hours after fleeing, he was stopped in a car at the Belgian border, but was waved through. Since that point, the effort to find and arrest him had stretched across much of Europe, though it had centered on Brussels. In particular, the suburb of Molenbeek has come under anti-terror scrutiny in recent months. In the end, that is where Abdeslam was arrested.
The international reaction to Tuesday’s attack was swift, and generally supportive. British Prime Minister David Cameron offered any help his nation could provide. The Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo was quick to blame the Islamic State for the new attacks.
“This terrorism is like a cancer that spreads over the entire world,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attack “barbaric.” But his administration was less sympathetic. One Russian official went so far as to blame the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European politics for focusing on “the Russian threat” and creating an atmosphere that encouraged the attacks.
And a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Twitter said “You can’t support terrorists in one part of the globe and not expect them to appear in other parts.”
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews