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Belgian police release photo of 3 suspects in terror attacks that killed at least 30

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Three explosions ripped through the Belgian capital of Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 killing dozens of people and wounding over 170 more, according to Belgian media. This is a picture released by Belgian Police of suspects in the Belgium attacks.

Three explosions ripped through the Belgian capital of Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 killing dozens of people and wounding over 170 more, according to Belgian media. This is a picture released by Belgian Police of suspects in the Belgium attacks.

BRUSSELS, Belgium  — ISIS claimed to strike yet again on European soil Tuesday, saying its “fighters” launched attacks on the airport and a subway station in Belgium’s capital that killed at least 30 people and wounded about 230 more.

paris arrest

Salah Abdeslam

Belgium has been going after terrorist threats for months, as illustrated by last week’s capture of Europe’s most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam, in a bloody raid in Brussels.

“We were fearing terrorist attacks,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters Tuesday. “And that has now happened.”

A Belgian government representative told CNN that 20 people died at the Maelbeek metro station and 130 were wounded, plus 10 more were killed and 100 wounded at Brussels’ international airport.

The “working assumption” is that the attackers came from the same network behind November’s massacres in Paris, which left 130 dead, Belgian security sources said, while cautioning it is very early in the latest investigation.

Belgian authorities released a surveillance photo of three suspects.

Belgian Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said: “Two of them probably carried out suicide attacks. A third one, dressed in a light jacket and hat and pushing an airport luggage cart, is actively being searched for.”  Authorities are looking through residences in the European country in connection with this investigation, but in the interests of protecting the probe, they won’t reveal exactly where, Van Leeuw said.

The wanted notice went out shortly after a U.S. law enforcement officials told CNN that American authorities had gotten a picture from their Belgian counterparts of three possible suspects.

None of the three has been identified by name, nor was it immediately known if any attackers are at large.

After the blasts, Belgian authorities again hit the streets looking for those tied to Tuesday’s carnage and who might launch more attacks. Belgian state broadcaster RTBF reported that Belgian authorities carried out midday raids in a search for people linked to the attacks. Several witnesses told CNN they’d seen police special forces combing through the northeast Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek, cordoning off a train station there.

ISIS — as it has for other terrorist attacks in Europe, Asia and Africa — embraced all the assailants. Its claim noted that Belgium is “participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State.” In fact, Belgian warplanes flew 796 sorties and launched 163 airstrikes over Iraq from September 2014 to July 2015, according to the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, and were set to resume these operations this summer.

And the extremist group may not be done. One Twitter post widely circulated by prominent ISIS backers featured the words, “What will be coming is worse.”

A senior U.S. official thinks it’s no coincidence that ISIS would want to strike in Brussels, home to the headquarters of NATO and the European Union.

“They are trying to make an international statement,” the official said. “They aren’t stupid.”

‘It was a matter of time’

Belgium is no stranger to terror. A U.S. counterterrorism official said, “The Belgians have been sitting on a ticking time bomb,” given all those who have gone from the small European nation to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, then possibly come back home.

Still, these facts don’t take away the shock and horror of those who lived through Tuesday’s carnage.

“You cannot believe it; you cannot believe it,” said Jef Versele, who was in the airport’s departure hall when bombs exploded there. “It was so insane. Not in my backyard.”

At least one of the two airport explosions was a suicide bombing, Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said. A blast happened there outside the security checkpoints for ticketed passengers and near the airline check-in counters, an airline official briefed on the situation said.

The subway station blast happened in the Brussels district of Maelbeek, near the European Quarter, where much of the European Union is based.

Richard Medic, who arrived at the metro station shortly after that explosion, wasn’t surprised by the carnage after all that Europe has gone through recently, including November’s massacre in Paris that ISIS claimed responsibility for.

“I think, after the Paris attacks, we were assuming something like this would happen,” the Brussels resident told CNN. “And it was a matter of time.”

Yet Versele, the airport witness, said that he thinks Belgians should not hole themselves up.

Instead, he said, they should continue to live their lives and travel “to prove that we’re not afraid of those who have done (the attacks).”

Two nuclear power plants evacuated

Belgian authorities bolstered security after Tuesday’s attacks, including shutting down all Brussels metro stations and evacuating the city’s airport.

This comes as the terror threat level in Belgium went up to four — its highest. That step-up means that army soldiers can be sent onto the streets to meet security needs.

No flights will go into or out of Brussels Airport — which CEO Arnaud Feist said was “shot in the heart” — until at least noon Wednesday, according to Belgium’s crisis center.

Several of the city’s top shopping centers are closed for Tuesday and perhaps beyond, according to RTBF, while train stations reopened at 4 p.m. “with extra security measures.”

All but essential staff were sent home from two nuclear power plants in Belgium — one in Tihange and the other in Doel, said a representative of Engie, the French company that operates the facilities. Belgian authorities ordered this evacuation, though the representative did not provide further details.

And RTBF reported that the National Pensions Office in Brussels was cleared after two suspicious packages were found inside.

European calls for solidarity

NATO, the military alliance that calls Brussels home, increased its own alert level and expressed solidarity with Belgium.

“This is a cowardly attack, an attack on our values and on our open societies,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement. “Terrorism will not defeat democracy and take away our freedoms.”

As in other places — as far away as New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles in the United States — British authorities ordered an increased police presence at ports, airports, Tube stations and international train stations, according to Prime Minister David Cameron.

Eurostar, a high-speed railway that goes to England and France, noted a number of schedule and other changes, including canceling service between London and Brussels.

Throughout France, 1,600 more police hit the streets after the Brussels attacks, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

“I express my entire solidarity with the Belgian people,” French President Francois Hollande tweeted. “Through the Brussels attacks, the whole of Europe has been hit.”

That sentiment was echoed by Belgium’s Michel during what he called “a dark time for our country.”

“More than ever, I call on everybody to show calm, but also solidarity,” the Prime Minister said. “We are facing a difficult, challenging time. And we should face up to this challenge by being united.”

Airport witness: Windows broken, ceiling parts down

Around 8 a.m. Tuesday, Alphonse Lyoura was doing his job handling bags at Brussels Airport when, he said, he heard someone speaking and then “a huge, strong explosion.”

“It’s horrible,” he told CNN affiliate BFM, recalling a man who’d lost both legs and other grisly scenes. “Belgium doesn’t deserve this.”

In the departure hall, Versele noticed “people … shouting and running around” after the first blast, then even more pandemonium after the second explosion, which was, “in my eyes, much more powerful.”

That blast blew out windows, created a lot of smoke and caused parts of the ceiling to fall, he added.

“People were on the floor,” Versele said, estimating that he saw 50 to 60 who didn’t seem to be able to walk. “… It was quite a mess.”

Jeffrey Edison was near the gate, several hundred yards from where the explosions occurred. He didn’t hear the blasts but “suddenly saw” 200 to 300 people rushing toward him from a security checkpoint.

Anthony Barrett watched it unfold from his hotel across from the terminal building.

“When I opened the curtains and looked out, I could see people fleeing,” he told CNN — some of the wounded being carried out on stretcher after stretcher, others on luggage carts.

Soccer star: ‘I wish for Brussels to act with dignity’

About an hour later, during the tail end of Brussels’ rush hour, another blast went off at the Maelbeek metro station.

Sander Verniers was heading toward there when this explosion occurred, producing “strong winds going (through his train) and some noises that shouldn’t be there.” Belgian troops met the passengers as they got off the train and walked along the tracks.

“We all had to get out,” Verniers told CNN. “There was a lot of smoke.”

For several hours Tuesday, everyone in Belgium was urged to stay inside. That advisory was lifted around 4 p.m., though the country’s crisis center urged all citizens to “remain vigilant.”

One question is for how long. Another is what this has to do with Belgium’s other suspected terrorists like Abdeslam, who reportedly told investigators he was involved in last fall’s Paris terror attacks that ISIS also claimed responsibility for.

The Belgium-born French citizen was arrested in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek on Friday. On Tuesday, Belgium’s Prime Minister deflected a question about whether there’s any link between the Brussels attacks and Abdeslam’s capture, saying it is too early to tell.

Michel said Tuesday that he had “no information” about who was responsible for the attack, adding that authorities will find that out, but right now their focus is on caring for the victims.

Belgian national soccer team captain Vincent Kompany tweeted that he was “horrified and revolted (that) innocent people (are) paying the price again,” but he urged people not to encourage those wishing to lash out.

“We must reject hate and its preachers,” Kompany said. “… I wish for Brussels to act with dignity.”

 

 

 

 


 

Three explosions that ripped through the Belgian capital of Brussels on Tuesday killed dozens of people and wounded even more, according to Belgian media, and raised the reality of terror once again in the heart of Europe.

"We were fearing terrorist attacks, and that has now happened," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters.

Belgian federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said late Tuesday morning that it was too soon to know exactly how many people died in the bombings. Yet Belgian state broadcaster RTBF, citing emergency services, reported 20 dead at the Maalbeek metro station and 14 more killed at Brussels' international airport.

Belgian authorities released a surveillance photo of three suspects.  Belgian Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said: "Two of them probably carried out suicide attacks. A third one, dressed in a light jacket and hat, is actively being searched for." Authorities are looking through residences in the European country in connection with this investigation, but in the interests of protecting the probe, they won't reveal exactly where, Van Leeuw said.

After the blasts, Belgian authorities again hit the streets looking for those tied to Tuesday's carnage and who might launch more attacks.

Citing judicial sources, RTBF reported that raids were underway midday Tuesday around Brussels, targeting people linked to the attacks. And at the international airport, a controlled explosion could be heard after troops zeroed in on a suspicious package, according to the Belgian crisis center.

Belgium is no stranger to terror. Just a few days ago, authorities there captured Europe's most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam -- the latest of many suspected terrorists caught in the small European country. And a U.S. counterterrorism official said, "The Belgians have been sitting on a ticking time bomb," given all those who have gone to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, then possibly come back home.

Still, these facts don't take away the shock and horror of those who lived through Tuesday's carnage.

"You cannot believe it; you cannot believe it," said Jef Versele, who was in the airport's departure hall when bombs exploded there. "It was so insane. Not in my backyard."

Brussels man: 'It was a matter of time'

At least one of the two airport explosions was a suicide bombing, Van Leeuw said. A blast happened there outside the security checkpoints for ticketed passengers and near the airline check-in counters, an airline official briefed on the situation said.

The subway station blast happened in the Brussels district of Maalbeek, near the European Quarter, where much of the European Union is based.

Richard Medic, who arrived at the station shortly after that explosion, wasn't surprised by the carnage after all that Europe has gone through recently, including November's massacre in Paris that ISIS claimed responsibility for.

"I think, after the Paris attacks, we were assuming something like this would happen," the Brussels resident told CNN. "And it was a matter of time."

Yet Versele, the airport witness, said that he thinks Belgians should not hole themselves up.

Instead, he said, they should continue to live their lives and travel "to prove that we're not afraid of those who have done (the attacks)."

Europe, U.S. on alert as well

Belgian authorities bolstered security after Tuesday's attacks, including shutting down all Brussels metro stations and evacuating the city's airport.

This comes as the terror threat level in Belgium went up to four -- its highest. That step-up means that army soldiers can be sent onto the streets to meet security needs.

In addition to the airport, broadcaster RTBF reported that the National Pensions Office in Brussels had been cleared after two suspicious packages were found inside.

The ramifications were felt outside the Belgian capital as well.

As far away as the United States, authorities in places like New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles took special precautions like increased K9 sweeps of subways and additional police patrols. This was especially true around airports, subway stops and train stations, with scenes like those in the U.S. capital -- where police pulled out and checked travelers at random -- not uncommon.

Similar, if not more intense measures were enacted around Europe.

NATO, the military alliance that is headquartered in Brussels, increased its own alert level and expressed solidarity with Belgium.

"This is a cowardly attack, an attack on our values and on our open societies," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement. "Terrorism will not defeat democracy and take away our freedoms."

European calls for solidarity

As in other places, British police increased their presence at certain locations, including transport hubs like London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports, according to Scotland Yard.

Eurostar, a high-speed railway that goes to England and France, noted a number of schedule and other changes, including canceling service between London and Brussels.

Gare du Nord station in Paris, a stop for Eurostar as well as subway trains, was evacuated Tuesday afternoon after an abandoned suitcase was found, police said. Throughout France, 1,600 more police hit the streets after the Brussels attacks, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

"I express my entire solidarity with the Belgian people," French President Francois Hollande tweeted. "Through the Brussels attacks, the whole of Europe has been hit."

That sentiment was echoed by Belgium's Michel during what he called "a dark time for our country."

"More than ever, I call on everybody to show calm, but also solidarity," the Prime Minister said. "We are facing a difficult, challenging time. And we should face up to this challenge by being united."

Airport witness: Windows broken, ceiling parts down

The darkness set in not long after the sun rose in Brussels. Anthony Barrett said he heard something about 8 a.m. local time from his hotel across from the terminal building.

"When I opened the curtains and looked out, I could see people fleeing," he told CNN.

Barrett saw stretcher after stretcher carrying people out of the airport, with luggage trollies also used to transport the wounded.

In the airport's departure hall, witness Versele noticed "people ... shouting and running around" after the first blast, then even more pandemonium after the second explosion, which was, "in my eyes, much more powerful."

That blast blew out windows, created a lot of smoke and caused parts of the ceiling to fall, he added.

"People were on the floor," Versele said, estimating that he saw 50 to 60 people who seemed to be unable to walk. "... It was quite a mess."

Traveler Jeffrey Edison had cleared security and was out by the gate, several hundred yards from the departure lounge, where the explosions occurred. He told CNN he didn't hear the blasts but "suddenly saw" 200 to 300 people rushing toward him from the security checkpoint.

He says it took authorities around 25 minutes to tell the passengers what had happened, before evacuating the area and leading the passengers to the runways.

Soccer star: 'I wish for Brussels to act with dignity'

About an hour later, during the tail end of Brussels' rush hour, another blast went off at the Maalbeek metro station.

Sander Verniers was heading toward there when this explosion occurred, producing "strong winds going (through his train) and some noises that shouldn't be there." Belgian troops met the passengers as they got off the train and walked along the tracks.

"We all had to get out," Verniers told CNN. "There was a lot of smoke."

The Belgian crisis center tweeted that all public transportation in the city has been closed.

"Stay where you are," it said.

Kristalina Georgieva, the vice president of the European Commission, said that all the organization's institutions are at "alert level orange" and that all meetings on its premises and outside have been canceled. She advised people to stay at home or indoors.

Abdeslam, who authorities say was involved in the Paris terror attacks last year, was arrested in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek on Friday. Belgium's Prime Minister deflected a question about whether there's any link between Tuesday's bloodshed and Abdeslam's capture, saying it is too early to tell.

He said Tuesday that he had "no information" about who was responsible for the attack, adding that authorities will find that out, but right now their focus is on caring for the victims.

Belgian national soccer team captain Vincent Kompany tweeted that he was "horrified and revolted (that) innocent people (are) paying the price again," but he urged people not to encourage those wishing to lash out.

"We must reject hate and its preachers," Kompany said. "... I wish for Brussels to act with dignity."

Three explosions that ripped through Belgium on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 killed at least 26 people, according to Belgian media, and raised the specter of terror once again in the heart of Europe. Pictured is a map of Brussels, Belgium.

Three explosions that ripped through Belgium on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 killed at least 26 people, according to Belgian media, and raised the specter of terror once again in the heart of Europe. Pictured is a map of Brussels, Belgium.