ISIS strikes heart of Europe: 34 dead and over 200 injured in Brussels

Photo: Michael Villa/AFPGetty Images

ISIS strikes heart of Europe: 34 dead and over 200 injured in Brussels

The attacks

  • Two explosions rocked Brussels' Zaventem airport while one blasted through Maalbeek Metro station
  • Thirty-four people have been reported dead while over 200 were injured in the attacks

The perpetrators

  • ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, claiming its attackers had killed over 230 people
  • It said Belgium was targeted for its involvement in the coalition fighting against ISIS in Syria

More in the story

  • Passengers narrate terrifying eyewitness accounts of the attack
  • World unites to condemn attacks and express solidarity with Belgium

  • Do the attacks have anything to do with the arrest of ISIS operative Saleh Abdeslam?

Terror reared its ugly head in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday, 22 March. Two explosions, including a suicide bomb, ripped through the Zaventem airport, while one blasted through a Metro station. Another terrorist is reportedly on the run. Thirty-four people lost their lives, and over 200 were injured.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Brussels attacks. Shortly after the attacks, ISIS supporters tweeted: "The state will force you to reevaluate your ways a thousand times before you are emboldened to kill Muslims again."

Prime Minister Charles Michel said: "We were fearing terrorist attacks, and that has now happened." He said the attackers were 'blind, violent and cowardly', and said it was a 'tragic moment in our country's history'.

Michel signed off with an appeal for calm: "I would like to call on everyone to show calmness and solidarity."

UPDATE 3: Southern France's Toulouse-Blagnac Airport has been evacuated for security reasons, TV reports suggest. Even the passengers on board planes had to disembark.

UPDATE 2: RTBF, Belgium's state broadcaster, has named brothers Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui as the two men who detonated suitcse bombs, killing themselves and several others, at the Zaventem airport.

Belgium is also observing three days of mournin as well as a minute's silence will be held at midday and flags are flying at half mast across the capital.

UPDATE: Police are hunting for a man, the third suspected bomber, in a hat who was caught on CCTV pushing a laden luggage trolley at the Zaventem airport. His device failed to explode. A wanted notice has been issued.

During raids on Schaerbeek, a northern suburb of Brussels, an explosive device containing nails, "chemical products" and an Isis flag were discovered

First victim has been named: Adelma Marina Tapia Ruiz, from Peru, and lived in Brussels for six years, is the first victim to have been named so far, AFP reports. The Peruvian foreign ministry confirmed her identity.

Sequence of events

The tragedy began unfolding at 8am with two explosions at the international airport's departures area. A short while later, there was an explosion at the Maalbeek station. Two more explosions were rumoured at Kunst-Wet and Schuman, but were not confirmed. They are now known to be false reports.

The attacks were carried out very smartly. The attackers targeted people in restricted spaces, with the objective obviously being 'small area, high body count'.

Also read: Terror hits Brussels. Blasts at airport & Metro station kill 34 people, ISIS claims responsibility

Brussels airport connects Europe's capital to 226 different destinations around the world. In 2015, it handled 23.5 million passengers.

Reports suggested that the first explosion had occurred at the American Airlines counter. American Airlines has since issued a statement saying it didn't occur near their counter:

The explosions were preceded by gunfire. A second bomb then detonated near Brussels Airlines ticket counter.

The metro blast was also placed strategically close to the EU buildings in Brussels.

As the attackers hit Brussels and the media started broadcasting footage worldwide, citizens and officials were put on high alert. Airports began increasing security and deploying more police as the day progressed. People in and around the airport and Metro stations started to panic, and images of them fleeing were widely shared.

Meanwhile, Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad cited police sources as saying that a third man, who tried to blow himself up at the airport, is still on the run. An unexploded suicide vest, thought to belong to this third terrorist, was discovered at the airport. It was later blown up in a controlled explosion by a bomb squad.

Two people were arrested at Noordstation in Brussels.

Terrified travellers

These latest attacks have put the Belgian capital in a state of virtual lockdown. The airport has been shut until 6 am on 23 March. The whole Metro system has ground to a halt. Cellphone lines are jammed as scared citizens and panicked travellers make calls to each and every one they knew.

The Belgium-France border has been put on high security. Belgium also responded by raising its threat status to the maximum level.

Dozens of terrified people were seen fleeing the Brussels airport in panic. Travellers were told to evacuate, and smoke from one of the terminal buildings could be seen getting thicker.

Also read: 13 dead, 35 severely injured in twin blasts at Brussels airport

"We were going to check in around 7:30 am," Ilaria Ruggiano told The New York Times. "There were seven of us. We were a bit late. We heard a big noise and saw a big flash. My mother went to the floor - she was hit. I just dropped my luggage and went to the floor. A kid came out, bleeding a lot. I tried to help him with a tissue, but it was not enough. There were two bombs."

Businessman Jef Versele told NBC News: "A lot of people were in panic. I saw a lot of blood, a lot of people were injured. People were crying, on the floor, covered by parts of the roofing. I saw a lot of leg injuries, a lot of people couldn't move anymore. There were quite a lot of people injured. In the departure hall - you saw people storming out, it was like run for your life."

ISIS threat spreads through Europe

The attacks are a continuing illustration of the threat of ISIS terror throughout Europe. Belgians are part of the coalition fighting it and other jihadist groups in Syria, and the country has often been suspected of having become a breeding ground for jihadists.

Amaq, ISIS's 'news agency', issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon, saying: "Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices, targeting an airport and a central Metro station in the centre of the Belgian capital, Brussels, a country participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State.

"Islamic State fighters opened fire inside Zaventem Airport, before several of them detonated their explosive belts, as a martyrdom bomber detonated his explosive belt in the Maalbeek Metro station. The attacks resulted in more than 230 dead and wounded."

The present attacks come just four days after the capture of Salah Abdeslam, on 18 March. Europe's most wanted man, Abdeslam was the sole survivor out of the 10 who were directly involved in the Paris attacks last November, which killed around 130 people.

Reports had emerged that Abdeslam was planing additional attacks. Belgian officials had been seeking two of his close associates. Authorities had asked the public for help in finding Najim Laachraoui, 24, whom they identified as an accomplice of Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini, 31, who was filmed with Abdeslam at a gas station on a highway to Paris before the attacks in November.

Abdeslam had told authorities after his arrest that he had created a new network and was planning new attacks. In the days leading up to the arrest, Brussels had been on high alert. With Abdeslam's arrest, his network could have started to panic, prompting it to launch the attack on Tuesday and not at some later date. They could've feared that, during the investigation, their plans would be revealed and the network eventually broken up.

Also read: Brussels attack: Gul Panag's husband, singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya's family safe, moved to secure area

Indians safe

Jet Airways currently uses the Zaventem airport as its European hub, but is about to shift its hub to Amsterdam in just a few days - on 27 March.

Two of the airline's staffers were injured in the attack, but other Indians were reported safe.

The attack has come days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit Brussels. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup confirmed that the visit will go ahead as scheduled on 30 March for the India-EU Summit.

Modi himself tweeted: "News from Brussels is disturbing. The attacks are condemnable. Condolences to families of the deceased. May those injured recover quickly."

Reactions to the attacks

  • United States President Barack Obama at a press conference in Havana, Cuba sent a message of support to the Belgians, "We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world".
  • Meanwhile, NATO has called the attacks "cowardly".
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin called the attacks "barbaric".

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: "I strongly condemn today's deplorable terrorist attacks in Brussels. My thoughts are with the victims as we stand with Belgium & the EU."
Also read: 10 latest details you need to know about the Brussels attacks
  • Spain's foreign secretary Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo hit out at ISIS. "Let's stop pretending, let's worry about Daesh, which is the enemy. We must be aware that as they are hit in Syria and Iraq, they are going to go elsewhere. They have sleeper cells all over the world and Belgium has a very serious problem."

  • Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said the Eiffel Tower will be lit up in the colours of the Belgian flag, in solidarity with the people of Brussels.
  • US presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton tweeted:

Also read: Lockdown in Brussels: Bus, Metro, Train, Tram shut after explosions

Survivors take to social media

1. Airport explosions:

2. Sky News video from inside the airport shortly after the explosion:

3. As the bomb ripped through the departure hall, here's what was left:

4. Refugees in Greece hear of the news:

5. Sunni Islam's highest religious authority, Al-Azhar reacts:

6. An ode to the people of Brussels:

7. Muslim travellers:

Sahil Bhalla

Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla