At least 30 people were killed in attacks on Brussels airport and a rush-hour metro train in the Belgian capital on Tuesday.
There was no credible claim of responsibility eight hours after the first blast; but the coordinated assault, four days after Brussels police captured the prime surviving suspect in the Islamic State attacks on Paris, turned immediate attention to local Islamists.
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 bomber.
President Obama led expressions of support to Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel after Brussels went into a state of virtual lock-down.
“We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” Obama told a news conference in Cuba. “We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.”
Michel spoke at a Brussels news conference of a “black moment” for his country. “What we had feared has come to pass.”
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”.
Later, people were told that mainline rail stations would open at 4pm to let commuters head home.
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.”
Public broadcaster 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.
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