Explosions, at least one likely caused by a suicide bomber, rocked the Brussels airport and subway system on Tuesday, prompting a lockdown of the Belgian capital and heightened security across Europe.
The latest death toll stands at 31, Associated Press reported. A spokesman for the Brussels Metro said more than 55 were wounded, 10 very seriously, in an explosion on a train.
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.
Belgium raised its terror alert to its highest level, diverting arriving planes and trains and ordering people to stay where they were. Airports across Europe immediately tightened security as a fleet of emergency vehicles roared in to handle the carnage at the Brussels airport.
The explosions, which the Brussels prosecutor's office called terror attacks, came just days after the main suspect in the deadly 13 November Paris attacks was arrested Friday in Brussels. After his arrest, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attacks.
However, Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel said that there was no information now whether attacks related to Paris suspect arrested last week. "What we feared has happened," said Michel calling the blasts ‘blind attacks’ and adding that authorities are worried there will be more attacks. Speaking a news conference in Brussels, Michel said, "there are many dead, many injured" from the attacks earlier Tuesday at the airport and a subway station. He says border controls have been reinforced. "We realise we face a tragic moment. We have to be calm and show solidarity," said Michel.
Belgian media reported that 13 people were killed at the airport. Brussels police spokesman Christian De Coninck said some people also died at the subway station but he had no exact numbers yet on the dead or injured.
One of the injured is an Indian national, said the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. The Indian is one of the two crew members of Jet Airways who were injured in the twin bomb blasts. They were given medical care, the airline said. "As per initial information, Jet Airways guests in Brussels have been re-located to a safe location by the Brussels Airport authorities," the airline said in a statement.
"At this time passengers and staff have been cordoned off and are not allowed to access the airport terminals. Jet Airways staff and crew are safe."
At the airport, two explosions splattered blood across the departure lounge and collapsed the ceiling. The explosions hit during the busy morning rush. Smoke was seen billowing out of the terminal.
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 colleague said 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.
All flights from Brussels were canceled, arriving planes and trains were diverted. 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.
European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. Abdeslam's arrest on Friday heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved in the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris than originally thought, and that some are still on the loose.
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.
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.
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.
In Paris, France's top security official said the country was immediately reinforcing security at airports, train stations and metros.
The Paris airport authority said security was tightened at all Paris airports. Airports in London, Prague, Amsterdam, Vienna, and many others, also saw increased security.
In Moscow, Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov told Russian news agencies that authorities will "re-evaluate security" at Russian airports, although its measures are already among some of the toughest across Europe. There have been mandatory checks at the entrances to airports since a 2011 suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport that killed 37.
Gatwick airport said that "as a result of the terrible incidents in Brussels we have increased our security presence and patrols around the airport." Heathrow said it was working with police to provide a "high-visibility" presence in light of the attacks.
In Germany, the state rail system, Deutsche Bahn, has halted its high-speed rail service from Germany to Brussels. The company said its ICE trains are now stopping at the border city of Aachen.
The British, Dutch and Polish governments convened emergency meetings as they beefed up security at airports.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Britain's David Cameron vowed to help Belgium.
"Our thoughts are there, in Brussels and we are praying for the victims," said Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who canceled a routine news conference to attend an emergency meeting with her government security council.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday's blasts in Brussels marked a "very sad day" for Europe, saying on a visit to Jordan it was now suffering like the Middle East.
"It is... a very sad day for Europe as Europe and its capital is suffering the same pain that this region has known and knows every single day," she said tearfully at a joint press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
She said it was already clear that the blasts at Brussels airport and a metro station near the EU headquarters were attacks that resulted from radicalisation, and called for European and Middle Eastern leaders to work together to tackle the scourge.
"We are still waiting for more precise news on the dynamics of the attacks in Brussels but it is quite clear the roots of the pain we are suffering around our region are very much the same," she said.
"We are united in not only suffering... but also reacting to these acts and preventing radicalisation and violence together.
"Being here together is the most powerful message of strength and friendship among our people that we can pass to those who would like to divide us."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condoned the attack on Twitter:
News from Brussels is disturbing. The attacks are condemnable. Condolences to families of the deceased. May those injured recover quickly.
The MEA released helpline numbers for Indians to check status of their friends and relatives in Belgium:
#Brussels Attack: Indians in Belgium can contact our Mission's Emergency numbers
+32-26451850 (PABX) &
— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) March 22, 2016
With inputs from agencies
First Published On : Mar 22, 2016 19:18 IST