Apparently coordinated terrorist explosions rocked Brussels Airport and a metro station Tuesday, leaving at least 26 dead and raising fears that attackers carried out retaliatory strikes after the arrest of a key suspect in last year’s Paris massacres.
The full casualty count remained unclear hours after the attacks, but various Belgian reports and officials said it reached at least 26.
“We are talking about scores of dead,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel without giving clearer estimates after blasts brought down roof panels at the airport’s departure hall and an explosion on the Maelbeek metro platform shrouded it in smoke and littered it with debris.
The Belgian prosecutor’s office described at least one of the airport blasts as part of a suicide attack – the latest apparent terrorist bloodshed to hit Europe and another sign that militant networks remain able to strike despite widespread crackdowns and probes across the continent.
Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said the city had come under “terrorist attacks.”
Brussels’s public transportation agency said the subway blast alone left at least 15 dead and 55 injured “so far.”
The Belgian Health Ministry said that 11 people were killed and 81 were wounded in the attack at the airport, Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper reported.
“What we had feared has happened,” Michel said. “This is a black moment for our country.”
The Belgian capital was ordered locked down and was put on a maximum terror alert, with all of the city’s public transportation shut down. The fallout immediately spread beyond Belgium’s borders, displaying the increased worries and security cooperation since November’s Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
In France, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said an additional 1,600 people were deployed and security was boosted at border posts and major transportation hubs.
“Through the attacks in Brussels, all of Europe is hit,” French President François Hollande wrote on Twitter. On social media, an image soon appeared: A figure draped in the colors of the French flag embracing another tearful figure in the black, yellow and red of Belgium’s banner.
London and other cities, including New York and Washington, also put additional police on the streets.
And in Jordan, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, choked back tears at a news conference after learning of the Brussels attacks.
“We are experiencing the darkest day in the history of our country since the Second World War,” said Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp and the leader of Belgium’s largest political party, the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belang, the broadcaster VTM reported.
At the Brussels Airport, located in the Brussels suburb of Zaventem, the blasts collapsed ceilings in the departure hall, sent passengers fleeing, and left pools of blood amid splintered signs and abandoned luggage.
The metro station was clogged with smoke as panicked people streamed onto the streets and rescue workers raced toward the mayhem.
The casualty figures could not be immediately confirmed, but some media reports placed the tally higher than 26, suggesting the full count was still unclear hours after the 8 a.m. bloodshed.
Amateur video taken immediately after the airport attack showed streams of panicked passengers running out of the airport. Large clouds of smoke bellowed from the blown-out windows of a terminal building.
The airport was closed, as well as the major roadway leading to the airport. Flights were diverted to Liege Airport, about 50 miles east of Brussels Airport, radio reports said.
The bombing comes just four days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the last known living participant in the November attacks on Paris. Abdeslam, 26, was arrested in Brussels’s Molenbeek neighborhood.
About 75 minutes after the blasts at the airport, another explosion ripped through the Maelbeek metro station, Belgian media reported. That station, near the heart of the European Union, serves a busy stretch of E.U. office buildings, embassies and international organizations. The explosion happened near the end of the morning rush hour, when many subway trains are packed with commuters.
Brussels Airport tweeted news of the explosions, imploring people to stay away.
One person, who was in a taxi pulling up to the departures terminal, said she felt and heard two explosions in short succession, “one farther away, one closer.”
“We saw a few people injured. We saw the glass front of the building had exploded, glass flying around,” said Daniela Schwarzer, head of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who was leaving Brussels after a weekend conference there.
Video: Brussels Airport and a metro station near the heart of the E.U. were hit by explosions on March 22, sending the city into high terror alert. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · James McAuley, Daniela Deane, Brian Murphy