Saturday

3rd Dec 2022

Belgium in mourning after 'murderous madness'

  • Airport workers embrace as they leave the scene of explosions at Brussels airport (Photo: Reuters)

"Belgium is mourning and will never be the same," King Philippe of Belgium said on Tuesday (22 March) after bomb attacks in Brussels killed at least 30 people and injured 230.

In a televised address, he called on the Belgian people to "keep trust" in themselves. "This trust is our strength," he said.

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A three-day national mourning had been declared earlier by the government.

At the same time, life was starting to return as close as possible to normal as trains, metros and trams began to operate again and people started driving out of Brussels.

From 4pm onwards, the Federal Crisis Centre said people were no longer advised to stay inside. The main train stations reopened, public transportation restarted, and schools could go back to normal.

Authorities did not impose a lockdown like they did last November, when Belgium's capital ground to a halt for three days after information about a “serious and imminent” threat.

But they did maintain a level four alert - the highest - for the whole of Belgium, meaning that the threat is "‘very serious", as authorities feared terrorists could be preparing other attacks.

"Stay calm and vigilant," the Belgian crisis centre said. It added to non-residents: "Do not come to Brussels".

Air traffic at Brussels national airport, where the first attack was carried out, will remain interrupted until at least the middle of Wednesday.

According to official figures, between 10 and 14 people were killed and about 100 were injured at the airport where two suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts in the departures hall, apparently next to the American Airlines and Brussels Airlines counters, at around 8.00am.

Belgian police circulated a still image taken from the airport's CCTV video, showing three men pushing trolleys. Two of the men wore gloves on one hand, probably to hide the trigger for their explosive belts.

A third man in the video was being searched for by the police.

At the Maelbeek metro station, one hour later, a bomb exploded, apparently on the platform, when a train was stopped at the station. Around 20 people were reported dead and between 100 and 130 were injured.

"It is war. It is indescribable. All is destroyed, in pieces," the firemen's spokesman told the Libre Belgique newspaper about what he saw in the station.

He said he saw "war wounds" and that in more than 40 years on the job it was "the most serious thing" he had seen.

The attacks were claimed by Islamic State, a jihadist group based in Syria.

Belgium was hit by "blind, violent and cowardly" attacks, the country's prime minister Charles Michel said.

"We feared an attack and it happened," he said, calling on his fellow citizens to demonstrate "calm and solidarity".

The mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, said his city "as the rest of the country, was hit by an unprecedented murderous madness".

"A huge task is ahead of us to make Brussels an open and cosmopolitan city again," he said.

Both the airport area and the surroundings of the Maelbeek metro station were closed and people were being pushed away by police.

The Maelbeeek station is under Rue de la Loi, one of Brussels' largest and most traveled streets. It is only a few hundred metres away from the main EU institutions.

The EU's general-directorate for agriculture, just next to the station, was evacuated. Other EU buildings remained open but under strengthened security.

Rumours of evacuations of all buildings in the EU quarter circulated in the afternoon but civil servants who were present in the morning continued to work. Others had been advised to stay home.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was spotted having lunch at the institution's canteen.

The centre of Brussels was empty for most of the day, but in the afternoon people started to gather next to the former stock exchange, La Bourse, where they wrote messages of support and tributes on the street and pavement.

Police searches later on Tuesday uncovered a site with a bomb, chemicals and an Islamic State flag, Belgian media said.

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