Terror struck Europe as two deadly blasts – blamed on a suicide bomber – ripped through the Zaventem airport killing at least 13 people. A third explosion followed at a Metro station in the heart of the Belgian capital, claiming 15 more victims.
Scores were also injured in the coordinated attacks — only four days after Belgian Police arrested the suspect in the Paris terror attack which killed 130 people in November.
The injured included two employees of the privately-owned Indian airline Jet. One was an Indian.
“Jet Airways guests and staff on the landside at Brussels airport have been moved away far-off from the terminal. Transit guests who were in the terminal building have been shifted to hangers in coaches,” the airline said in a statement.
“Our Brussels staff is co-ordinating with airport authorities and security agencies to arrange immigration formalities as soon as possible to move the transit guests out of the airport.”
Prime Minister Charles Michel blamed terrorists for the carnage.
“We were already fearing attacks. That has happened now. We confront a situation where many people have died,” a sombre Michel told the media. He said Belgium was “determined to deal with the situation”.
Michel said a suicide bomber was involved in the airport attack, which took place at 8 a.m. in a departure area, shattering windows, furniture as well as machinery, leaving it resembling a war zone.
The airport — the biggest in Belgium — and all public transport were shut down after the bloodbath. And so was the European Union headquarters, located near the Maalbeek Metro station where 15 people died, said the Guardian newspaper.
“The Metro was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion,” Alexandre Brans, 32, told the media, wiping blood from his face. “It was panic everywhere.”
Belga news agency reported that shots were fired and shouts in Arabic were heard before the two airport blasts, BBC said.
An intern working at the airport told Al Jazeera: “When I heard the first explosion, lots of people started screaming and running. When I heard the second explosion, which was about 30 seconds after the first, everything got chaotic. I could see panic on everyone’s face, blood on their bodies.”
Hundreds of people fled the airport building, some with blood on their faces. First reports said the blasts were centred at the American Airlines check-in desk. The false ceiling in that building came crashing down.
Most media outlets put the death toll at the airport at 13.
TV footages showed a number of Indian passengers being evacuated from the airport. Two Jet Airways planes had arrived earlier in the day from Mumbai and Delhi.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the terror attacks were “disturbing” and condemnable”. He conveyed his condolences to the families of the deceased. “May those injured recover quickly.”
Congress president Sonia Gandhi too has expressed shock and deep concern over the terror attack at the airport and metro in Belgium’s capital Brussels. Condemning “unequivocally” the terror attack that has so far resulted in 23 deaths, Gandhi said “such cowardly acts can never defeat the resolve of the entire world community to fight terrorism in all its manifestations”. The Congress president said her party and the entire country stood with the people of Belgium in this hour of crisis, her party said in a series of tweets.
“She hoped and prayed that the casualty figures and the number of injured remain low,” a party tweet said.
The attacks came as the Belgian capital was on a state of high alert following the arrest of Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam in the city on March 18. Belgium Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the country was braced for possible revenge attacks after the 26-year-old’s capture.
Pictures showed the terminal windows blown out from the force of the explosion and plumes of smoke rising high into the sky. Video also showed terrified passengers running for their lives out of the terminal.
Sky News Middle East correspondent Alex Rossi, who was at the airport, told the channel: “I could feel the building move.”
CNN quoted a tourist, Anthony Barrett, as saying that he heard the explosions from his hotel across the terminal building. “When I opened the curtains and looked out, I could see people fleeing,” he told CNN.
Barrett said he saw 19 or 20 stretchers with people on them. Luggage trolleys were also used to transport the wounded.
The Brussels airport, originally built in 1944 and with three runways, said there were two explosions at the building and everyone was ordered to leave immediately.
France is seeking Abdeslam’s extradition so he can stand trial for his alleged role in the November 13 rampage of gunfire and suicide bombings which killed 130 people in Paris. (IANS)