Brussels explosions: What we know so far

Published March 22nd, 2016 - 02:51 GMT
Brussels has been in a state of high alert for months following a hunt for the Paris attackers. (AFP/Emanuelle Dunand)
Brussels has been in a state of high alert for months following a hunt for the Paris attackers. (AFP/Emanuelle Dunand)

Brussels airport and the central metro station of Maalbek were rocked by a series of explosions Tuesday morning, leaving at least 31 dead and dozens more wounded. The bombings come just days after the dramatic arrest of Salah Abdeslam, dubbed “the most wanted man in Europe” in connection with the November attacks on Paris. As Brussels has been the scene for an ongoing clampdown on militant cells, Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said, "We know that stopping one cell can ... push others into action." He added that the country was on alert for revenge attacks.

Here is what we know so far.

Dual blasts at Brussels Zaventem airport
At approximately 8 am local time, two blasts were reported near the American Airlines check-in counter, shattering windows and prompting authorities to evacuate the airport. At least 14 people were killed and 81 injured the explosions.

Maalbek train station hit by explosion
Speaking at a press conference, Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur, said at least 20 people had been killed at the metro station explosion, but that it is “too early to say exactly what the number of victims will be.” Mayeur confirmed that 106 had been injured in the blast.

Gunshots and shouting in Arabic heard before the blasts
Eyewitnesses reported hearing gunfire and yelling in Arabic just before the explosions occurred. Alphonse Youla, an airport worker said, “I heard a man shout some Arabic words then an explosion...” However, Youla added that he did not speak Arabic, so he did not know what might have been said.

Belgian authorities were on the lookout for reprisal attacks
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told press of fears that attackers were still at large in the city following the two blasts. Belgian private broadcaster VTM reported that an undetonated bomb belt had been found by investigators at Brussels airport and that a bomb squad would explode it. Police were also investigating a suspicious package at the University of Brussels.

Brussels has been the center of operations targeting Daesh-linked cells in Europe
Brussels has been the site of an ongoing operation against suspected Daesh operatives for months now, and Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was captured in a raid on the city’s notorious Molenbeek district this Friday. Commentators have suggested today’s attacks might be in response to that arrest.

Daesh supporters celebrate the attacks on social media
Daesh’s followers created the hashtag “Brussels is on fire” to express their happiness over the attack, although the group has not formally claimed responsibility for the bombings. The hashtag is inspired by the “Paris is on fire” hashtag used after the Paris attacks in November. “You declared war against us and bombed us, and we attack you inside your homeland," was a common message among Daesh supporters.

Brussels on lockdown as flights and public transport halted
For the first time ever, Belgium has raised its threat level to “four,” and borders with France and the Netherlands have reportedly been closed. Authorities have asked residents of Brussels to stay indoors, public transport has been shut down, and 225 troops deployed around the city following the attacks. Rail traffic was suspended and planes were reportedly left circling the city as they waited to be diverted to alternative airports.

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