Tuesday, March 22, 2016 1:34 pm
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A suicide bomber blew himself up at Brussels airport on Tuesday killing at least 11 people and a further blast tore through a rush-hour metro train in the capital shortly afterwards, claiming 15 lives.
A shocked Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, described the twin attacks as his country’s black day.
A witness said he heard shouts in Arabic shortly before two blasts struck the packed airport departure lounge. Pictures on social media showed smoke rising from the terminal building through shattered windows and passengers fleeing down a slipway, some still hauling their bags.
Baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura describes the chilling moment when the bombs detonated at Zaventem airport:
“I heard two explosions, the second one was really loud,” he tells AFP. “I heard a man screaming just behind the Belfius bank. He spoke in Arabic and then when he had finished speaking I heard a detonation, a huge one. There was panic, everyone was running around, and I went to hide in the booth where I work.
“I saw the roof panels falling so two people came to me so I could help them. I put them in the lift. I came back to my booth, I found someone lying on the ground, who wasn’t moving, there was too much blood, and someone else lying down, a woman, by the back escalator. I came and lifted her two legs to stop the bleeding a bit.
“I helped two policemen get out, whose legs were crushed. There were two women sitting behind the Belfius stand, who had lost their legs.What I saw was total panic, people’s fear, people were crying all over the place. And what did we do? Nothing. We had nothing.”
All public transport in Brussels was shut down, as it was in London during 2005 militant attacks on the underground that killed 52. A further 225 soldiers were sent into the city and the Belgian Crisis Centre, clearly wary of a further incident, appealed to the population: “Stay where you are”.
The blasts at the airport and metro station occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of a suspected participant in November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Belgian police had been on alert for any reprisal action.
The blasts triggered concern across western Europe with Britain and France calling emergency security meetings. The Dutch military strengthened security at airports and borders and Britain stepped up police presence at key locations including transport hubs.
Video showed devastation inside the departure hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor. Some passengers emerged from the terminal with blood spattered over their clothes. Others sat wrapped with blankets.
A witness said the blasts occurred at a check-in desk.
Belga news agency cited the fire brigade as saying 11 were killed at the airport, but there was still some uncertainy about casualties.The metro station hit by the explosion was Maelbeek, close to European Union institutions.
The VRT broadcaster carried a photograph of a metro carriage at a platform with doors and windows completely blown out, its structure deformed and the interior mangled and charred. It said ten were killed in the blast.
A local journalist tweeted a photograph of a person lying covered in blood among smoke outside Maelbeek metro station, on the main Rue de la Loi avenue which connects central Brussels with the EU institutions.
Ambulances were ferrying the wounded away and sirens rang out across the area.