IS claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attacks at Zaventem Airport and on an underground train in the Belgian capital yesterday morning.
The incidents , which took place within about 60 minutes of each other during rush hour, led to a security shutdown across the city and the closure of the airport. Three days of mourning are to be held across Belgium.
Police issued a wanted notice for the man in a hat who was pushing a luggage trolley alongside two others who, investigators said, had later blown themselves up in the air terminal, killing at least 10 people. Officials said 20 more died on the metro train close to EU institutions, and IS said that too was a suicide attack.
The co-ordinated assault triggered security alerts across Europe and drew global expressions of support, four days after Brussels police had captured the prime surviving suspect in IS’s attacks on Paris last November. Belgian authorities were still checking if the attacks were linked to the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, according to federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw.
However, US officials said the level of organisation involved suggested they had previously been prepared.
Last week, a nail bomb and an Islamic flag were found during a raid on a Brussels flat. Police also found a fresh fingerprint of Abdeslam’s, putting them on to his trail.
In a statement, IS said “caliphate soldiers, strapped with suicide vests and carrying explosive devices and machine guns” had targeted the airport and metro station, adding they had set off their vests amid the crowds.
Van Leeuw confirmed a manhunt was underway.
“A photograph of three male suspects was taken at Zaventem. Two of them seem to have committed suicide attacks. The third, wearing a light-coloured jacket and a hat, is actively being sought,” he told a news conference. A government official said the third suspect had been seen running away from the airport building. Local media reported police had found an undetonated suicide vest in the area.
Police appealed to travellers who had been at the airport and metro station to send in any photos taken before the attacks in their efforts to identify the bombers.
After questioning Abdeslam, police issued a wanted notice, identifying Najim Laachraoui, 25, as linked to the Paris attacks. The poor quality of the airport CCTV images and of the Laachraoui wanted poster left open the possibility he might be the person caught on the airport cameras.
Addressing the nation in a live TV address last night, Belgium’s King Philippe said he and his wife Queen Mathilde “shared the pain” of all those who had suffered.
US President Barack Obama led calls of support to Belgian prime minister Charles Michel after the Belgian capital had gone into virtual lockdown.
“We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” Obama told a news conference in Cuba.
Prime minister Michel spoke at a Brussels news conference of a “black moment” for his country. “What we had feared has come to pass.”
In Paris, where IS killed 130 people in November, the Eiffel Tower was lit up with the colours of the Belgian flag on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with Brussels. Brussels airport will remain closed today.
Last night, there was a renewed focus on Belgian security with security experts telling Reuters that squabbling between multi-layered government, under-funded spy services, an openness to fundamentalist preachers and a thriving black market in weapons had made Belgium among the most vulnerable countries in Europe to militant attacks.
Public broadcaster VRT said police had found a Kalashnikov assault rifle next to the body of an attacker at the airport. Such weapons have become a trademark of IS-inspired attacks in Europe, notably in Belgium and France, including the November 13 attacks.
Alphonse Youla, 40, who works at the airport said he heard a man shouting out in Arabic before the first explosion. “Then the glass ceiling of the airport collapsed. I helped carry out five people dead, their legs destroyed,” he said, his hands covered in blood.