Here’s what we know as of now about the Tuesday morning attacks in Belgium:
- At least 30 people have been killed by two bombs that exploded in the check-in area of the Brussels airport and one bomb that exploded in a transit station in the city center.
- ISIS has claimed responsibility for the bombings.
- Authorities have sought the public’s assistance in identifying a man in a surveillance photo taken just before the explosions at the airport. The other two men in the photo may have set off the airport explosions in suicide attacks.
Night has now fallen in Brussels but we’ll continue updating the running blog below if and when new information becomes available.
Update, 3:30 p.m.: Politico’s European branch (which is headquartered in Brussels) writes that bomb detonators were found in the Brussels apartment at which Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprints were also found last week. (Abdeslam was located and arrested last Friday.) The New York Times, meanwhile, reports that a Belgian prosecutor says that “a bomb containing nails” was found in a Brussels home today in a raid conducted after the morning attacks.
The Times also notes that authorities say that the two leftmost suspects in the surveillance photo below “probably” accounted for the two explosions at the Brussels airport via suicide bombs. (Police have asked for the public’s help in identifying the suspect on the right side of the photo, but did not ask for information about the other two.) A third explosive device was found undetonated at the airport.
Update, 1:25 p.m.: Belgian authorities have released a surveillance photo of three men suspected of involvement in today’s airport attacks and are specifically asking the public for help identifying one of the men. Here’s the picture:
And here’s the request for information on the unidentified individual (“Who recognizes this man”?):
Update, 12:30 p.m.: The AP is reporting that a “bomb” has been “deactivated” at the Brussels airport; AFP says a “suspicious package” appears to have been intentionally detonated by authorities. (It isn’t clear if those reports are referring to the same object.)
Update, 11:45 a.m.: ISIS’ “news agency” has announced that the group claims responsibility for today’s attacks.
Update, 10:50 a.m.: Commenting on events in Brussels before a previously scheduled address in Havana, President Obama seemingly alluded to Republican politicians who respond to terror attacks by suggesting that the U.S. should close its borders and engage in racial/religious profiling. “We must be together—regardless of nationality or race or faith—in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” Obama said.
Update, 10:10 a.m.: A dispatch from a BuzzFeed investigative reporter in Brussels says that Belgian authorities have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of terrorism-related leads that have developed in the country in recent years. From BuzzFeed:
“We just don’t have the people to watch anything else and, frankly, we don’t have the infrastructure to properly investigate or monitor hundreds of individuals suspected of terror links, as well as pursue the hundreds of open files and investigations we have,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said.
“It’s literally an impossible situation and, honestly, it’s very grave.”
Update, 9:40 a.m.: As feared, the death toll has once again climbed, via the Guardian:
Speaking at a press conference, the mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, said that at least 20 people died in the explosion at the metro station, but that it is “too early to say exactly what the number of victims will be”.
Taken together with the reports of 13 dead at the airport, that puts the still-unofficial death toll at 33. Those numbers are only provisional at this point, though, and may very well still change.
Update, 9:19 a.m: British broadcaster Sky News has some video of the moments after the explosions at the airport.
Update, 9:10 a.m.: Belgian broadcaster VTM reports that police discovered a “non-exploded bomb belt” at the airport, where the earlier two explosions occurred.
Update, 8:51 a.m.: Belgium officials say that several of the apparent attackers may still be at large:
The AFP also reports that authorities are asking the media to refrain from reporting details of the on-going investigation that might impeded it. “The federal prosecutor notes that certain journalists are reporting information about the investigation underway,” the office said in a statement, without identifying any specific news organizations. “The federal prosecutor urges the press to immediately refrain from conveying information relative to the investigation so as not to harm the inquiry.”
Update, 8:28 a.m.: Initial reports that 13 people were killed at the Brussels airport have since been revised down to 11. That would put the day’s current unofficial death toll at 26, though that number appears more likely to rise in the coming hours than fall. Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel said earlier today that there were “numerous” dead.
Update, 8:11 a.m.: GOP front-runner Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter with the type of compassion you’d expect:
Speaking on Fox News this morning, Trump said that the United States has to be “very, very vigilant” about who it lets into the country, and if something like what happened in Brussels today happened in the United States while he was president, he would close our borders “until we figure [out] what’s going on.”
Update, 8:05 a.m.: Many international leaders have weighed in to express their support for Belgium. Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders have taken a somewhat different approach. While they expressed their own condolences, they also tossed in some second-guessing, via the New York Times:
“It is time for Europe to understand where the real threat is coming from, and to unite its efforts with Russia,” Aleksei K. Pushkov, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament, wrote on Twitter.
He went on to disparage Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, whose headquarters are in Brussels. “While Stoltenberg is beside himself fighting the pseudo ‘Russian threat’ and deploys troops in Latvia, people are exploded under his nose in Brussels,” he wrote.
Update, 7:50 a.m.: For more on how Belgium has become a breeding ground for terrorists, check out this piece from my colleague Joshua Keating from late last year. A snippet:
[E]xperts attribute the growing strain of radicalism in Belgium with the country’s failure to integrate its Muslim population—about 6 percent of Belgians—many of whom live in rough urban neighborhoods like Molenbeek. According to Belgian Interior minister Jan Jambon, many of those recruited to fight in Syria are third- or fourth-generation immigrants. These circumstances aren’t unique to Belgium. What is unique is the presence of … the Molenbeek-based organization, Sharia4Belgium. … The highly effective group shifted its focus in recent years from promoting Islamic law in Belgium to recruiting for the war in Syria. …
Compounding the growing problem of radicalism in Belgium is the availability of illegal weapons—arms dealers in Brussels are believed to have provided the AK-47s used in the Charlie Hebdo attack, the Kosher supermarket hostage killing the next day, and the August train attack. Belgium is a major legal producer of firearms, but the weapons used in these attacks are probably surplus from the Balkan wars of the 1990s and likely made their way from Eastern Europe. Kalashnikovs can reportedly be purchased for a little more than $1,000 in Belgium.
Update, 7:43 a.m.: Belgian leaders have left no doubt that they believe the bombings were indeed terrorist attacks. “What we feared, has happened,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said at a televised press conference.
Update, 7:33 a.m.: The metro operator STIB-MIVB has confirmed that at least 15 people were killed in the subway bombing, and another 55 injured. Taken together with the 13 reported fatalities at the airport, that brings the unofficial death toll to 28 people and counting.
Original post, 6:50 a.m.: Three explosions rocked Brussels on Tuesday morning, killing at least 13 people and injuring an untold number of others, according to local authorities and reports from the ground. The cause of the blasts—two at the city’s airport and one in its subway system—were not immediately known, though they came roughly an hour apart and authorities are treating them as acts of terrorism.
According to the Associated Press, Belgium’s terror alert level was raised to its maximum level, and people in Brussels were told to stay where they were as the city went into virtual lockdown, with all flights into the capital canceled for the day, and mass transit shut down. Belgian public broadcaster VRT has called the attack on the airport a “suicide attack,” according to Reuters:
The Belga agency said shots were fired and there were shouts in Arabic shortly before two blasts rang out at the airport. Pictures on social media showed smoke rising from the terminal building through shattered windows and passengers running away down a slipway, some still hauling their bags. … British Sky News television’s Alex Rossi, at the airport, said he heard two “very, very loud explosions”. “I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well… I went towards where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked.”
The subway explosion that followed appears to have occurred inside a metro car that was stopped at Maelbeek, a station in the heart of the city and not far from the headquarters of the European Union. The initial reports of fatalities all appeared to be from the airport, and it was not immediately clear if anyone was killed on the subway.
The apparent attacks come only four days after Belgian authorities arrested Salah Abdeslam, thought to be the sole remaining survivor of the 10 men who carried out the terrorist attacks in Paris this past November that killed 130 people. Authorities said Abdeslam, who was Europe’s most wanted man at the time of his capture, managed to avoid authorities for so long thanks to the help of local connections and that he claimed to be preparing another attack. Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, said on Monday that the country was on high alert for a revenge attack following Abdeslam’s arrest. “We know that stopping one cell can … push others into action,” he said on public radio. “We are aware of it in this case.”