14 die in suicide bombing at departure terminal, blast in Maalbeek station kills 20; city's public transport network shut down
At least 34 people were reportedly killed and dozens were wounded in twin attacks Tuesday morning on Brussels's airport and metro, authorities said.
By mid-afternoon official figures put the death toll at 26. But local media was reporting a total of 34 dead, 14 in twin bomb blasts in the departure terminal of the airport and 20 more in a bomb attack a short while later at the Maalbeek metro station. Dozens were injured in both incidents.
Authorities defined the explosions as terror attacks and the public transport system in the city was shut down in the wake of the blasts.
According to the Belgian VTM TV channel, police discovered an unexploded suicide vest at the Brussels airport. The report said a Kalashnikov assault rifle had also been located at the site.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, speaking on national television, described the attacks as "blind, violent and cowardly." Interior Minister Jan Jambon announced that Belgium's terror threat had been raised from three to a maximum of four, and the country's national security council was due to meet. Belgium's Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said authorities feared that suspects involved in the deadly attacks could still be at large.
"The inquiry is still ongoing because we fear that people are still at large," Reynders told RTBF television after a news briefing in the Belgian capital.
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.
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks in hours after the blasts.
Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the first blast, told BFM television that the second, louder explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with blood from victims.
"It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed," he said. "There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere. We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene."
At Maalbeek, black smoke and clouds of dust billowed from the station entrance, about a hundred meters (yards) from the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. More than a dozen people were seen lying on the pavement outside with bloodied faces and were being treated by emergency services.
Footage from the airport showed smoke billowing from the site with hundreds of passengers fleeing damaged buildings. The interior of the building appeared to be severely damaged, with ceiling tiles littering the floor. Initial reports suggested the explosions took place at the American Airlines check-in desk.
A Sky News reporter who was at the airport at the time of the blasts said that passengers had been evacuated to the tarmac. Police instructed passengers to leave their hand luggage in the airport and leave the building immediately. Passengers were led onto the tarmac and the crisis center urged people not to come to the airport.
Airport spokeswoman Anke Fransen said:
"There were two blasts in the departure hall. First aid team are in place for help."
The airport tweeted messages saying explosions had taken place and advising travelers to stay away. All flights to and from the airport were cancelled following the attack. The Hebrew media said an El Al flight en route to Brussels was diverted midair.
The Sky News journalist at the airport said there had been a "very big explosion. We felt the walls of the building rock, dust came down from the ceiling,"
The blasts come four days after the dramatic arrest in Brussels on Friday of Saleh Abdeslam, prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks that killed 130 people in November.
After being on the run for four months, Abdeslam, 26, was shot in the leg and captured Friday along with a suspected accomplice in a massive Belgian police raid in Brussels. Three others were also detained, but two were released on Saturday.