BRUSSELS — Explosions at the airport and a downtown metro stop rocked the city Tuesday, killing at least 31 people, wounding more than 150 and shutting down all public transportation. Terror alerts rose across Europe, in the U.S. and around the world.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor confirmed the blasts at the airport were caused by a suicide attack. The explosion at the metro station was near buildings that house European Union institutions in central Brussels. “We were fearing terrorist attacks and that has now happened,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said.
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Maggie De Block, Belgium’s federal health minister, said the terrorist bombings at the airport killed at least 11 people and injured 81. Brussels Mayor Yvan Majeur put the subway death toll at 20, with more than 100 wounded there. Belgian public broadcaster IRTV was reporting a total of 34 dead, but that number could not be immediately verified.
Belgium raised its terror threat level to maximum and security was tightened across the region. The incident follows the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in November’s Paris attacks who was captured in Brussels last week after a four-month manhunt. Belgium’s state news agency reported that shots were fired and shouting in Arabic was heard before the explosions at the airport.
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In the U.S., The White House said President Obama was briefed about the explosions at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, where he’s on the third day of a Latin American tour. He’s expected to address the situation during a speech to the Cuban people Tuesday.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch was coordinating efforts by the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to provide assistance to Brussels authorities, a Justice Department official said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly.
The Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Washington promised K-9 sweeps and additional patrols, and the New York Police Department said “counterterrorism resources” were ramping up security at tourist attractions and major transportation centers.
CNN now calling #Brussels the “Twin Terror Attack,” with best inflection to make it sound like “Twin Tower Attack.”
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There were no indications of specific threats against U.S. targets, authorities said.
In Brussels, the government instructed people to avoid the airport to make way for emergency responders. Aviation authorities evacuated the airport, diverted incoming flights starting around 9 a.m. Tuesday and canceled all flights until 6 a.m. Wednesday. Zaventem airport serves about 24 million people a year. It is located about 7 miles from north-east of central Brussels.
Immediately following the blast at the Metro station, transportation authorities shut down the entire subway system. Thirty minutes later, the officials suspended all public transportation, including trams and buses.
Ángela González, 45,lives near an underground station in Brussels. “Schools are closed, no one is allowed to leave. In fact, no one allowed out of wherever they are,” she said. “All you can hear is sirens and streets are completely deserted.”
González said the attacks did not make her want to return to her native Spain. “This is not just a Belgium problem, it is a European problem. We would not be safer elsewhere.” The airport evacuation left hundreds of people stuck on the parking lot and on the runway of the airport.
George Dallemagne, a member of Belgium’s parliament, drove his wife to the airport shortly before the explosion occurred. She called at 7:58 a.m. to tell him about the explosion. She told him she heard two blasts and ran toward the Sheraton hotel across from the airport.
She saw people streaming out of the terminal with injuries that appeared to be caused by shattered glass and elderly people on stretchers. A part of the ceiling in the departures hall collapsed, he said.
The EU, headquartered in Brussels, has told its staff to stay at home or remain inside buildings. The location of the metro stop is in a main thoroughfare of Brussels that connects the Schuman roundabout, where the European Commission and the Council of the EU are located, to the center of the city.
Michel also urged people to stay at home. He called the attacks a “black day for Belgium” and urged calm. “We have to face this united,” he said.
“We are at war,” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. “We have been enduring acts of war for many months in Europe. And in the face of this war, we need an every minute mobilization.” In Paris in November, 130 people were killed in terror attacks.
Images on social media showed smoke rising from the airportin brussels and panic at the entrance to the Maelbeek metro station.
Alex Rossi, a journalist for Sky News who was in the duty-free area of the airport at the time of the explosions, told the British broadcaster: “There was panic, people trying to find shelter where they were after we heard those two explosions. I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well.”
Simon O’Connor, who works for the European Commission in Brussels, told the Financial Times he was in the airport’s parking lot when he heard the first explosion and thought it had something to do with construction work. He heard the second explosion minutes later.
“I walked to the edge of the car park and you could see a lot of people looking distraught,” he said. “The whole side of the terminal building was blown out. A lot of people had blood on their faces, leg injuries. People began pouring out of the building.”
French President Francois Hollande said the war against terror must be fought “in cold blood.”
“Through the attacks in Brussels, the whole of Europe has been hit,” Hollande said.