“We are facing a difficult, challenging time and we should face up to this by being united,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said after the attack in a televised news conference. “What we feared, has happened… There are many dead, many injured.”
Officials asked the public for blood donations.
Belgium has raised national security to Level 4, its highest level, in the wake of Tuesday morning’s multi-site terror attacks in Brussels.
According to the Belgian Health Ministry, a total of 34 people were killed and 136 others were wounded in the two explosions at the Brussels international airport and in three explosions on the Brussels metro train system. At the airport, 14 were killed; 20 more were killed in the attacks on the metro, according to Flemish broadcaster VRT.
A Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle was found at the departure lounge following the attack – the same type used by the ISIS terrorists during the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris.
Public transportation networks were disrupted throughout Brussels. Security across the European continent has been tightened as well. All flights in and out of Brussels were canceled.
The Belgian Royal Palace was evacuated in response to the attacks, according to state broadcaster RTBF.
Following the incident, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde issued a statement saying they were “Distressed by the odious attacks on Brussels-National and the Brussels metro. Our thoughts are with the victims, families and emergency services.”
Flags at the European Commission — just a few hundred meters away — were lowered. A spokesperson for the commission said Europe was united against terrorism. “We stand together, united against terror and in full solidarity with the people of Brussels,” the statement said.
Israel expressed its support for Belgium as well. “Solidarity with Belgium, the latest victim of the hatred unleashed by Islamic extremism,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nachshon tweeted.
Security experts warned of possible copycat attacks being carried out in other European cities; in response, London and Paris raised their alert levels. In London, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt security was tightened.
French President Francoise Hollande condemned what he called the “heinous” attacks, saying it was really Europe that had been targeted. Hollande added the whole world should be concerned, calling the terrorism a “global threat which necessitates a global response.” At Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris armed guards and other military personnel boosted security there and at other borders.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK would do all it could to assist Belgium in the crisis, as London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports bristled with upgraded security. “I am shocked and concerned by the events in Brussels,” Cameron tweeted shortly after the news broke. “We will do everything we can to help.” The British prime minister is set to meet Tuesday evening with the counter terror Cobra committee.
The countries of Europe need to “stand together “ against terror, Cameron said. “We face a very real terrorist threat right across the different countries of Europe and we have to meet that with everything we have.” A united front is needed “against these appalling terrorists to make sure they can never win,” he added.
The British prime minister spoke with his Belgian counterpart to offer condolences and security support. The UK threat level, meanwhile, remains at “severe,” meaning an attack is assessed to be highly likely, according to The Guardian news site. Additional police officers have been deployed around London.
Condemnations of the attack and statements of condolence poured in from around the world, including from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.
CNN bureau anchor Max Foster in London was blunt in pointing out that the terror group was carrying out its declared intention to conduct a jihad against Western civilization – beginning with Europe.
The attack on a major European city was not unexpected, Foster said; the head of counter terror in London was “expecting it at some point.” This might be it, Foster said, “some big spectacular attack in multiple locations on a European city.” It could be anywhere.
“This is an attack on Western lifestyle now,” Foster said. “It’s not the lone wolf radicalized online that we’ve been hearing so much about in the past.” This is something else, he pointed out. It’s a military-style operation – trained attackers with a strategy.
Hana Levi Julian