There were two explosions (suicide attacks) at around 08:00 (07:00 GMT) on Tuesday 22nd March 2016 at Zaventem airport in Brussels, Belgium as people queued to check in at near the American Airlines and Brussels Airlines check in desks. A US official says security officials believe at least one suitcase bomb was detonated at Brussels airport. Police found an AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle next to the body of one of the attackers and an unexploded bomb belt. Two Kalashnikov rifles were found in the airport departure lounge after the attacks. Belgian news agency Belga reports that shots were fired and Arabic was shouted before the two explosions at Brussels airport. A third bomb found at the airport has been destroyed by security services.
Sometime later there was also a blast at Maalbeek metro station which is 200 meters away from the headquarters of the European Commission. Total causalities at the Airport and the metro station reached to at least 34 being killed and around 200 being injured. The Belgian government has raised the terror alert level to 4 across the country, the highest level. Three days of mourning declared in Belgium.
The blasts come four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive in the Paris attacks in November 2015. Khalid El Bakraoui had rented the apartment raided by police. Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Abrini are still on the run following police raids in the Molenbeek district of the Belgian capital when Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader of the Paris attacks was killed during the raid.
These attacks sent shock waves across the Europe and around the world, with authorities racing to review security at airports and on public transport, and rekindled debate about European security cooperation, intelligence coordination, constraints of data protection and police methods.
Who did it?
ISIS claims responsibility of Brussels attacks on Twitter. Amaq, the news agency affiliated with the Islamic State group states: “Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the centre of the Belgian capital Brussels.”
- The Belgian police on Wednesday 23rd March identified two brothers Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui as the suspected suicide bombers in Tuesday’s attacks at the Brussels international airport.
- Police helicopters hovered over the city late into the night on 22nd March and raids were under way across Belgium. A bomb, an Islamic State flag and chemicals had been found in one apartment during the raids based on tip of a taxi driver who is believed to have dropped these 3 terrorists at the airport.
- Najim Laachraoui, age 25, (wearing hat in the below photo), was arrested on Wednesday 23rd March in the city’s Anderlecht district, Belgian.
- Khalid El Bakraoui, Brahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui were identified on CCTV cameras entering the airport attacked.- Refer the below photo.
- Life began to return to normal in Brussels on Wednesday 23rd March, with some public transport working and cars returning to the European district, but the metro system remained closed and the airport was still shut to travelers.
- Hundreds of flights and trains were cancelled as Europe tightened security, while the US warned citizens about the “potential risks” of travelling in Europe and New York and Washington stepped up security.
What is happening now?
- Police in Brussels are searching for terror suspects in the city’s Schaerbeek district.
- Salah Abdeslam is currently being questioned by Belgian security services.
- Belgian Police have appealed people, who were present at the Airport when blasts happened, to identify 3 terror suspects and photos are released. The two men dressed in black are believed to have blown themselves up, while the man in white is thought to have escaped. The men in black both appear to be wearing a single black glove on their left hands, which some reports suggest could have been in order to conceal detonators.
- US Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump said the attacks showed the need for a much tougher Western response to jihadist violence.
- Democratic candidate and former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said: “Today’s attacks will only strengthen our resolve to stand together as allies and defeat terrorism and radical jihadism around the world.”
- Ted Cruz, currently lying second in the race for the Republican nomination, said the attacks were not “isolated incidents” and said the West was “at war with radical Islam”.
- US President Barack Obama has sent a message of support to the people of Brussels, saying: “We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.”
- It looks like revenge for the arrest of Salah Abdeslam on Friday 18th It is also possible that a cell linked to Abdeslam brought forward the timing of a future attack because they thought Salah Abdeslam might blow their cover.
Either way, it shows how advanced the planning was in terms of logistics, explosives, weapons and people willing to carry out such attacks on civilian targets. But it is clear that there are still huge gaps in intelligence and Brussels is seen as a soft target. Such well-coordinated attack should cause considerable concern that a functioning terrorist network was able to respond so quickly and with such devastating effect.
- BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said since the Since Charlie Hebo attacks in Paris in January last year, which killed 12 people, there had been a number of terror cells “on the loose” that had been inspired by so-called Islamic State and had access to weapons and explosives.
- Until now, Belgium has been a incubator of jihadism rather than itself a target for indiscriminate, home-grown terrorism. The May 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, in which four people died, was more anti-Semitic than “anti-Belgian” in motivation. It was carried out by a French-born Islamist radical.
- More than 300 Belgians are estimated to have fought with Islamists in Syria, making the country of 11 million the leading European exporter of foreign fighters and a focus of concern in France and other neighbors over its security capabilities. ISIS warned of “black days” for those fighting it in Syria and Iraq. Belgian warplanes have joined the coalition in the Middle East, but Brussels has long been a center of Islamist militancy and never been target so far.
- Brussels has become one of the epicentres of jihadism in Europe. The 13 November attacks in Paris last year were planned and carried out from Brussels. Their ringleader, Abdehamid Abaaoud, was born in Belgium. The runaway surviving Paris attacker captured last week, Salah Abdeslam, is a French citizen of Moroccan origin who has spent his whole life in Molenbeek, the sprawling 40 per cent Muslim commune (borough) which stretches west from the centre of Belgian’s capital. Proportionally, there are more young Belgians – including many converts – fighting with Isis and other jihadist groups in the Middle East than from any other European Union nation.
- Mohamed Abrini , one of the key suspects of Brussels attach is suspected to have travelled to Syria, and also visited Birmingham in the UK, where the Paris attackers are thought to have forged connections with fellow radicals.
- Security sources told the Berlin newspaper that the group who had carried out the Paris terrorist attacks was only one of three groups assembled to carry out attacks in Western Europe, and that the terrorist network had planned carry out other attacks. The majority of the first group was killed in a U.S. airstrike on Raqqa—the de-facto capital of the terror group the Islamic State—and the second group had carried out the Paris terrorist attacks in November.
- ISIS member and Brussels native Abdeslam had travelled from Belgium to Ulm, Baden-Württemberg in October last year to pick up three men who had entered country disguised as Syrian refugees. The men he picked up might have been part of the Paris attacks group or had been slated to take part in future attacks in Belgium or Germany, according to Tagesspiegel’s security source.
- All these facts point to a deep and festering problem in Brussels, which goes beyond, the disturbing radicalisation of a fringe of Muslim youth in France or Britain or the Netherlands or Germany. Until today, the hatred of western and democratic values spawned in Europe’s “capital” has mostly been exported. Divided, inward-looking Belgium is no longer immune.
Does Belgium sound like Pakistan? The incubator being the target of terrorism.