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Bombs struck the Brussels airport and one of the city’s metro stations Tuesday, killing at least 31 people and wounding 187 — and once again, a European capital was locked down amid heightened security threats.
The two airport blasts, at least one of which was blamed on a suicide bomber, left behind a chaotic scene of splattered blood in the departure lounge as windows were blown out, ceilings collapsed and travelers streamed out of the smoky building.
About an hour later, another bomb exploded on a rush-hour subway train near the European Union headquarters. Terrified passengers had to evacuate through darkened tunnels to safety.
At Brussels’ Zaventem airport, the two explosions hit the departures area during the busy morning rush. Belgian Health Minister Maggie de Block told Belgian media that 11 people were killed and 81 injured.
“What we feared has happened,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters. “In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity.”
The explosions came four days after the capture in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, suspected of being the ring leader behind the Paris attacks in November.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks in Brussels, saying its extremists opened fire in the airport and “several of them” detonated suicide belts.
The posting in the group’s Amaq news agency said another suicide attacker detonated in the metro.
The posting claimed the attack was in response to Belgium’s support of the international coalition arrayed against it.
Authorities found and neutralized a third bomb at the airport once the chaos after the two initial blasts had eased, said Florence Muls, a spokeswoman for the airport told The Associated Press. Bomb squads also detonated suspicious objects found in at least two locations elsewhere in the capital, but neither contained explosives, authorities said.
European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. The arrest Friday of a key suspect in the November attacks in Paris heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved than originally thought, and that some are still on the loose.
Michel said there was no immediate evidence linking the attacks with Abdeslam. After his arrest, Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.
President Barack Obama is pledging that the U.S. will “do whatever is necessary” to help Belgium bring to justice the perpetrators of terrorist attacks that killed more than two dozen people at the airport and a subway station.
He says the U.S. stands “in solidarity” with Belgium in condemning “these outrageous attacks against innocent people.”
Obama says the attacks are another reminder that “the world must unite” against the “scourge of terrorism.”
Belgium raised its terror alert to the highest level, diverting planes and trains and ordering people to stay where they were for most of the workday.
Authorities also released a photo taken from closed-circuit TV of three men pushing luggage carts, saying two of them apparently were the suicide bombers and that the third — dressed in a light-colored coat, black hat and glasses — was at large. They urged the public to contact them if they recognized him.
Police later conducted raids in Brussels searching for one of the suspects, and found a nail-filled bomb, chemical products and an Islamic State flag in the search of a house in the Schaerbeek neighborhood, the state prosecutors’ office said in a statement.
Airports across Europe — and in the New York area — tightened security.
“We are at war,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after a crisis meeting called by the French president. “We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war.”
Belgian media reported that 11 people were killed at the airport, where two explosions splattered blood across the departure lounge and collapsed the ceiling. The explosions hit during the busy morning rush. Smoke was seen billowing out of the terminal.
Anthony Deloos, an airport worker for Swissport, which handles check-in and baggage services, said the first explosion took place near the Swissport counters where customers pay for overweight baggage. He and a colleague said the second blast hit near the Starbucks cafe.
“We heard a big explosion. It’s like when you’re in a party and suddenly your hearing goes out, from like a big noise,” Deloos said, adding that shredded paper floated through the air as a colleague told him to run.
The bomb that went off an hour later on the subway train killed 20 people and injured more than 100, Brussels Mayor Yvan Majeur said.
“I jumped into a luggage chute to be safe,” he said.
Tom De Doncker, 21, check-in agent intern, was near the site of the second explosion.
“I saw a soldier pulling away a body,” he said. “It felt like I was hit too” from the concussion of the blast.
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 victims’ blood.
“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,” he said.
Near the entrance to Brussels’ Maelbeek subway station, not far from the headquarters of the European Union, rescue workers set up a makeshift medical treatment center in a pub. Dazed and shocked morning commuters streamed from the metro entrances as police tried to set up a security cordon.
“The Metro was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion,” said Alexandre Brans, 32, wiping blood from his face. “It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the Metro.”
Francoise Ledune, a spokeswoman for the Brussels Metro, said on BFM television there appeared to have been just one explosion on the subway in a car that was stopped at Maelbeek. Spokesman Guy Sablon said 15 were killed and 55 injured in that attack.
At the airport, passengers fled as quickly as they could.
Amateur video shown on France’s i-Tele television showed passengers, including a child with a backpack, dashing out of the terminal in different directions as they tugged luggage. Another image showed a security officer patrolling inside a hall with blown-out paneling and what appeared to be ceiling insulation covering the floor.
Marc Noel, 63, was about to board a Delta flight to Atlanta, to return to his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. A Belgian native, Noel says he was in an airport shop buying automobile magazines when the first explosion occurred 50 yards away.
“People were crying, shouting, children. It was a horrible experience,” he told AP. He said his decision to shop might have saved his life. “I would probably have been in that place when the bomb went off.”
With three runways in the shape of a “Z,” the airport connects Europe’s capital to 226 destinations around the world and handled nearly 23.5 million passengers in 2015.
Passengers were led onto the tarmac and the crisis center urged people not to come to the airport. More than 600 flights to Brussels were diverted or canceled.
The airport was ordered closed for the rest of the day and CEO Arnaud Feist said the facility would be closed all of Wednesday and perhaps even longer.
The metro also was ordered closed as the city was locked down. By the end of the workday, city officials said residents could begin moving around on the streets of the capital and train stations were reopening. But Peter Mertens of the Belgian crisis center said the threat of more attacks “is still real and serious.”
At least one and possibly two Kalashnikovs were found in the departure lounge at the airport, according to a European security official in contact with a Belgian police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the ongoing investigation. It was not immediately clear whether the firearms were used in the attacks.
In Paris, France’s top security official said the country was immediately reinforcing security at airports, train stations and metros.
A U.S. official has told the AP the explosives in Brussels appear sophisticated, and investigators will examine them to see if they bear the same characteristics to those used in the Paris attacks last year.
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