Brussels police sappers neutralized a third bomb at Zaventem Airport on Tuesday after two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the departure hall hours earlier. The bomb, filled with nails, was discovered in a security sweep following the attack. It was safely detonated in a controlled explosion by sappers from the city’s bomb squad.
The Amaq news agency affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist organization issued a bulletin Tuesday afternoon claiming that ISIS was responsible for the attacks. The SITE intelligence watchdog group verified the claim.
“Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital, Brussels, a country participating in the coalition against the Islamic State,” it said. “Islamic State fighters opened fire inside the Zaventem airport, before several of them detonated their explosive belts, as a martyrdom bomber detonated his explosive belt in the Maelbeek metro station.”
It is still not entirely clear how many people were killed and how many wounded at the airport and in the attack at the Brussels metro. Figures vary wildly, depending on the source – even varying between government agencies.
So far the death toll ranges from 10 to 14 dead in the attack at the airport, with between 81 to 100 wounded. In the attack at the Maelbeek metro station, the figures appear more consistent, with the death toll settled at 20; but the number of wounded ranges from 100 to 130.
Three suicide belts packed with explosives were discovered in the airport during the sweep. Also found on the terminal floor after the attack was a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle with ammunition, near the body of one of the terrorists.
“Suspicious objects” were also found in the Maelbeek subway station and near Brussels University, located a bit further away. The bomb squad safely detonated those two as well.
However, the discovery of an additional suspicious package prompted police to re-establish a security cordon at the airport, according to Flemish broadcaster VTM.
Two suspicious packages were also found inside the offices of the National Pensions Office in Brussels, prompting authorities to clear the building, state-run RTBF reported.
Two nuclear power plants were shut down and evacuated by police, but few details were provided about the reason for the move. All but essential staff were evacuated from the nuclear plants in Tihange and Doel under orders by Belgian police, according to a spokesperson from Engie, the French firm that operates the facilities.
The office of Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw confirmed Tuesday night that raids conducted in the northern Brussels suburb of Schaarbeek “led to the discovery of [another] explosive device containing nails, among other things. The investigators have also discovered chemical products and an Islamic State flag,” according to the statement quoted by The Guardian.
The prosecutor told reporters at an earlier news conference there had been a total of three explosions earlier in the day – two at the airport and one in Maelbeek, rather than three at the metro as earlier reported. Two of three men seen in a CCTV photo leaked to European media “very likely” committed the suicide attack, according to Van Leeuw. He also confirmed there is an active manhunt underway for that third individual, seen in the footage at the airport, dressed in white.
The Belgian government received statements of condolence and support from leaders and governments around the world, including Israel, Turkey, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, all of the members of the European Union and NATO, the United States and elsewhere.
“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.”
Hana Levi Julian