BRUSSELS (TheBlaze/AP) — Bombs struck the Brussels airport and one of the city’s metro stations Tuesday, killing at least 31 people and wounding dozens, as a European capital was again 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.
An official told the Associated Press that a third bomb was also deactivated at the airport.
The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the deadly terrorist attacks.
Belgium on Tuesday raised its terror alert to the highest level, diverting planes and trains and ordering people to stay where they were. Airports across Europe immediately 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.”
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.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said there was no immediate evidence linking key Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam to them. After his arrest Friday, Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.
— RT (@RT_com) March 22, 2016
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.
“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 running 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.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) March 22, 2016
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 22, 2016
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.
Authorities told people in Brussels to stay where they were, bringing the city to a standstill. Airport security was also tightened in Paris, London and other European cities.
In Paris, France’s top security official said the country was immediately reinforcing security at airports, train stations and metros.
According to the AP, a Belgian federal prosecutor said that “raids” are happening across the country to try to track down those responsible. It’s too soon to connect these attacks to the Paris terror attacks last November, according to the prosecutor.
Donald Trump was the first presidential candidate to tweet his reaction to the Brussels attacks.
Do you all remember how beautiful and safe a place Brussels was. Not anymore, it is from a different world! U.S. must be vigilant and smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2016
John Kasich later issued his own statement:
— Corrina Pysa (@CorrinaPysa) March 22, 2016
The explosions came on the morning that three U.S. states were holding primaries or caucuses, that is, Arizona, Idaho and Utah.