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A series of explosions has ripped through the departure hall of a Brussels airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital, killing at least 26 people and leaving many more wounded.
Two blasts targeted the main hall of Zaventem airport at about 8am local time (7am GMT) with a third detonating in Maelbeek metro station, about 100 metres from the headquarters of the European commission, shortly afterwards, as commuters were making their way to work in the rush hour.
Live Brussels explosions: multiple casualties after airport and metro attacks – live
The apparently coordinated explosions came four days after the arrest in a Brussels shootout of the only known survivor of of group of 10 Islamist attackers who killed 130 people in a string of suicide bombings and shootings in Paris in November.
“What we feared has happened,” said the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel, at a press conference. “There are many dead, many injured.”
Authorities are worried about the possibility of more attacks, he added, saying: “We realise we face a tragic moment. We have to be calm and show solidarity.”
Maggie de Block, the Belgian health minister, confirmed that 11 people died and 81 were injured in the airport explosions, which the Belgian prosecutor said were caused by a suicide attack. The Belga news agency quoted witnesses at the airport as saying shots were fired and shouts in Arabic heard shortly before the blasts.
Pictures and video posted on social media showed smoke rising from the terminal building through shattered windows, devastation inside the departure hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor, and passengers running along a slipway, dragging their bags behind them.
The Belgian metro authority, La Stib, told RTBF that at least 15 people were killed in the Maelbeek metro blast, and 55 more injured, including 10 critically.
The station is on the rue de la Loi, which connects central Brussels with the main European Union institutions.
Brussels police spokesman Christian De Coninck earlier confirmed there were fatalities but could not say how many: “There are victims, serious injury, people have died. I have no idea yet on the numbers of injured or dead.”
First aid was being administered in a nearby pub, AP reported, as shocked morning travellers streamed from the station and police set up a security cordon.
Françoise Ledune, a spokeswoman for the Brussels Metro, told BFM TV there appeared to have been just one explosion, in a carriage that was stopped at Maelbeek.
“The metro was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion,” said Alexandre Brans, 32, wiping blood from his face. “It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the metro.”
At Zaventem, passenger Jef Versele, 40, from Ghent, told journalists he heard two explosions. “I was on my way to check in and two bombs went off – two explosions,” he said. “I didn’t see anything. Everything was coming down. Glassware. It was chaos, it was unbelievable. It was the worst thing.”
Versele, who was one or two floors above one of the blasts near the American Airlines desk, said he believed many people had been injured. “There were lots of people on the ground,” he said. “The bomb came from downstairs. It was going up through the roof. It was big. About 15 windows were just blown out from the entrance hall.”
Jean-Pierre Lebeau, a French passenger who had just arrived from Geneva, told AFP he had seen wounded people and “blood in the elevator”. Lebeau said he smelled gunpowder at the scene and saw the ceiling had collapsed.
Zaventem airport, which serves about 23 million passengers a year, said it had suspended all flights and the complex had been evacuated, with passengers being taken in coaches to a secure area and flights diverted to Liege.
“There have been two explosions at the airport. The building is being evacuated. Don’t come to the airport area. All airport operations have been suspended until further notice,” Zaventem said on Twitter. It later added that the airport would stay closed until Wednesday morning.
Trains to the airport were also cancelled, the international Thalys services to Brussels from France and Eurostar services from London were halted, and the Brussels metro system was shut down. Belgian authorities raised the city’s terror threat level to maximum.
EU staff were told not to come to work until the situation was stabilised. Human resources commissioner Kristalina Georgieva tweeted: “Following situation in Brussels. EU institutions working together to ensure security of staff & premises. Please stay home or inside buildings.”
Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in November’s attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, Stade de France and a string of cafes and restaurants in Paris, was captured in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on Friday, having apparently managed to hide out for more than four months in the Belgian capital.
The Belgian foreign minister, Didier Reynders, warned on Sunday that Abdeslam “was ready to restart something in Brussels, and it may be the reality because we have found a lot of weapons, heavy weapons … and a new network around him in Brussels”.
The interior minister, Jan Jambon, repeated the warning on Monday, adding that the country was now on high alert for a revenge attack.
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