At least 34 people were killed on Tuesday as two deadly explosions rocked the Zaventem airport in the Belgian capital and a more powerful blast ripped through a train coach at a metro station in the heart of Brussels in the worst terror attack in Europe in four months.
Fourteen people were killed as two quick explosions took place in the country’s biggest airport just before 8 a.m. in a departure area, breaking windows, furniture and machinery, leaving it looking like a war zone.
Over 80 people were injured in the huge blasts, which triggered a panic run by hundreds of stunned passengers and staff from the airport building. Authorities said a suicide bomber was to blame for one explosion and that someone was heard shouting in Arabic and open fire moments earlier.
A Kalashnikov was later found near the body of a dead man.
An hour later, another explosion shattered the middle of a three-coach train car at the Maalbeek Metro station, leaving the carriage in a heap of mangled wreck with 20 dead and 55 injured, 16 of them critically.
As the global community, India included, rallied in solidarity with Belgium, Prime Minister Charles Michel called it a “moment of tragedy” and blamed it on “blind, violent and cowards”.
He declined to link the bloodbath with the March 18 arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, the suspect in the Paris terrorist attack which killed 130 people in November last year.
The injured included two employees of the privately-owned Indian airline Jet Airways. A Slovenian diplomat, said to be a man, was also injured, although the authorities did not release his name.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the terror attacks were “disturbing” and “condemnable”.
Jet Airways said it quickly moved guests and staff on the landside at Brussels airport away from the terminal and transit guests in the terminal building to hangers in coaches.
Prime Minister Michel said: “We were already fearing attacks. That has happened now.” He said Belgium was determined to deal with the situation, and that a suicide bomber was involved in the airport attack.
The airport and all public transport were shut down after the bloodbath. So was the European Union headquarters, near the Maalbeek station where 20 people died. Belgium’s nuclear plant in Huy town was evacuated.
“The Metro was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion,” Alexandre Brans, 32, told the media, wiping blood from his face. “It was panic everywhere.”
An intern working at the airport told Al Jazeera: “When I heard the first explosion, lots of people started screaming and running. When I heard the second explosion, which was about 30 seconds after the first, everything got chaotic. I could see panic on everyone’s face, blood on their bodies.”
Hundreds of people fled the airport building, some with blood on their faces. First reports said the blasts were centred at the American Airlines check-in desk. The false ceiling in the building came crashing down.
TV footages showed a number of Indian passengers being evacuated from the airport. Two Jet Airways planes had arrived earlier in the day from Mumbai and Delhi.
Pictures showed the terminal windows blown out from the force of the explosion and plumes of smoke rising high into the sky. Video also showed terrified passengers running for their lives out of the terminal.
Sky News Middle East correspondent Alex Rossi, who was at the airport, told the channel: “I could feel the building move.”
CNN quoted a tourist, Anthony Barrett, as saying that he heard the explosions from his hotel across the terminal building. “When I opened the curtains and looked out, I could see people fleeing,” he said.
Barrett said he saw luggage trolleys being used to transport the wounded.
French President Francois Hollande said: “Terrorists struck Brussels but it was Europe that was targeted and all the world that is concerned. Today it is Belgium, yesterday it was France.”
France is seeking Abdeslam’s extradition so that he stands trial for his alleged role in the November rampage of gunfire and suicide bombings which killed 130 people in Paris.