Spectre of terrorism haunts Europe after Brussels attack
LONDON - “What we feared has happened. Belgium was hit by a blind, violent and cowardly attack. This is a day of tragedy, a black day,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said in the aftermath of three deadly explosions that brought Brussels and parts of Europe to a standstill.
More than 30 people were killed and many others were wounded in the March 22nd attacks on Brussels Airport and a metro station. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility and threatened further violence in Europe. The Brussels attacks triggered memories of the November 2015 Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed. The Paris assault was organised in Belgium and carried out by an ISIS cell that has been directly linked to both terrorist attacks.
Two explosions hit a Brussels airport departure lounge at 8am, killing at least 11 people. Witnesses said that initial explosion targeted a check-in desk, with a second blast timed to hit those fleeing the first bombing in a tactic often employed by terrorists to cause maximum civilian casualties. Witnesses also reported shots fired and a Kalashnikov rifle was found at the scene, according to a European official.
A second attack took place an hour later at the Maelbeek metro station in central Brussels, which is close to the headquarters of the European Union. At least 21 people were reported killed as an explosion was set off in a metro carriage as it departed the station.
Belgian police released a CCTV image of suspected suicide bombers Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui. A third man pictured with them is believed to be Najim Laachraoui, described as the group’s “chief bomb maker”, who was the subject of a city-wide manhunt after the attacks. All three men have been linked to the Paris attacks and Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested March 18th in Brussels.
A minute’s silence for the victims of the attacks was observed across Europe on March 23rd, with Belgium observing three days of mourning. Tributes poured in from across Europe and the world following the attack, amid expressions of solidarity with Brussels and condemnation of ISIS.
“Through the attacks in Brussels, the whole of Europe has been hit,” French President François Hollande said. “We are at war. Over the past few months in Europe, we have endured several acts of war,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.