Belgium mourns ISIS victims

Salah Abdeslam

Salah Abdeslam

BRUSSELS. – Belgium will hold three days of national mourning in the wake of the deadly attacks in the capital Brussels that killed around 35 people, as ISIS claims responsibility of yesterday’s attacks.

“All national flags on public buildings will be at half-mast through Thursday,” Frederic Cauderlier, spokesman for Belgian Premier Charles Michel, told AFP.

More than 30people were killed in attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital yesterday, according to public broadcaster VRT, triggering security alerts across Europe and bringing some cross-border traffic to a halt.

Twin explosions struck Brussels’s Zaventem airport early yesterday, followed by a blast at a city metro station, reportedly killing at least 34 people.

Two explosions tore through the departure hall at Brussels Zaventem airport, reportedly killing 14 people.

About an hour after the airport attack, an explosion struck Maelbeek metro station near the EU headquarters. At least 20 people have been reported dead.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has condemned the “blind, violent and cowardly acts”, calling it a “black day” for the country.

The Belgian government has raised the terror threat to the highest level.

Brussels was in a state of lockdown with all transportation services, including metros, trains and bus services suspended. Zaventem airport has been shut down and flights have been diverted. Airport authorities have asked residents and travelers to stay away.

The blasts come days after Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was arrested in the Molenbeek district of the Belgian capital.

A witness said he heard shouts in Arabic and shots shortly before two blasts struck a packed airport departure lounge at Brussels airport. The federal prosecutor said one of the explosions was probably triggered by a suicide bom- ber.

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 and combat troops on the streets had been on alert for reprisal but the attacks took place in crowded areas where people and bags are not searched.

All public transport in Brussels was shut down, as it was in London during 2005 Islamist militant attacks there that killed 52.

Authorities appealed to citizens not to use overloaded telephone networks, extra troops were sent into the city and the Belgian Crisis Centre, clearly wary of a further incident, appealed to the population: “Stay where you are”.

British Sky News television’s Alex Rossi, at the airport, 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.”

VRT said police had found a Kalashnikov assault rifle next to the body of an attacker at the airport. Such weapons have become a trademark of Islamic State-inspired attacks in Europe, notably in Belgium and France, including on November 13 in Paris.

An unused explosive belt was also found in the area, the public broadcaster said. Police were continuing to scour the airport for any further bombs or attackers.

Alphonse Youla (40), who works at the airport, told Reuters he heard a man shouting out in Arabic before the first explosion. “Then the glass ceiling of the airport collapsed.”

“I helped carry out five people dead, their legs destroyed,” he said, his hands covered in blood.

A witness said the blasts occurred at a check-in desk.

Video showed devastation in the hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor. Some passengers emerged from the terminal with blood spattered over their clothes. Smoke rose from the building through shattered windows and passengers fled down a slipway, some still hauling their bags.

Public broadcaster RTBF said police were searching houses in the Brussels area.

All three main long-distance rail stations in Brussels were closed and train services on the cross-channel tunnel from London to Brussels were suspended.

Security services have been on a high state of alert across western Europe for fear of militant attacks backed by Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attack.

Belgium’s Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, said on Monday the country was on high alert for a revenge attack.

It was not clear what failings if any allowed the plan for yesterday’s operation to go ahead and whether the double attack was planned in advance or put together at short notice.

“We know that stopping one cell can . . . push others into action. We are aware of it in this case,” Jambon said. -Reuters/France24/AFP.

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