Brussels explosions: 'Black days ahead', warns Isis as bombmaker hunted
Belgian police are hunting an Islamic State suspect seen with two supposed suicide bombers shortly before they struck Brussels Airport in the first of two attacks that also hit the city's metro, killing at least 30 and wounding over 200.
Investigators said they were focusing on a man in a hat who was caught on CCTV pushing a laden baggage trolley at the airport's check-in area, with two others they believed were the suicide bombers.
The two wore black gloves that may have hidden triggers for explosive devices, Belgian newspaper La Libre reported.
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An unused explosive device was later found at the airport and a man was seen running away from the terminal after the explosions.
Brussels police mounted an operation in the north of the city, turning up another bomb, an Islamic State flag and bomb-making chemicals in an apartment in the suburb of Schaerbeek.
Local media said authorities had followed a tip from a taxi driver who believed he may have unwittingly driven the suspects to the airport.
Police have called on the Belgian public to assist with investigations.
"If you recognise this individual or if you have information on this attack, please contact the investigators," a notice read. "Discretion assured."
SUSPECT AT LARGE
Belgian bombmaker Najim Laachraoui Laachraoui, 24, is a suspected Isis commander who made the suicide bombs used in the Paris attacks in November. He is now one of Europe's most wanted men who gave police the slip last year when he returned from Syria.
It was suggested he may be the man at the centre of the hunt.
Belgian police had launched a major operation in the Brussels district of Schaebeek, where Laachraoui had grown up, arresting one man and finding a nail bomb, chemicals and an Islamic State (Isis) flag.
The man who was detained remained unidentified, the Telegraph reported.
LES ATTENTATS CE MARDI 22 MARS À BRUXELLES.— PLANTU (@plantu) March 22, 2016
(Le dessin du Monde) pic.twitter.com/9OCYMhOCpf
There were unconfirmed reports police had arrested a second man.
Police were searching around a metro station, local media reported. They had been taken there by a taxi driver who had unwittingly driven the attack suspects to the airport, the Mirror reported.
Further police operations were under way at several other points in the city.
In Germany, three men driving on a motorway through Bavaria had been arrested by police on suspicion of terror offences.
The men, said to be Kosovans, had travelled from Brussels, the Mirror reported. It was not known if they were connected to the Brussels attacks.
Police had fired warning shots while chasing three people in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, however it was not known if it was linked to the bombings.
Police had opened fire at the city's railway station before the three sped off in a car. They were arrested following a car chase.
'DARK DAYS' TO COME, ISIS WARNS
The militant group issued a threat in a message claiming responsibility for a series of explosions that ripped through Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station in the Belgian capital on Tuesday morning (local time).
"[Suicide bombers] stormed the airport of Brussels and metro station, killing a number of crusaders before detonating their explosive belts amid crowds of the disbelievers," the statement, translated by CNN, said.
"We promise black days for all crusader nations allied in their war against the Islamic State, in response to their aggressions against it, and what is to come will be more devastating and bitter by Allah's permission."
The blasts at the airport and metro station occurred four days after the Brussels arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the suspected mastermind of November's Paris attacks that killed 130 people. Belgian police had been on alert for any reprisal action.
'THEIR EYES EMPTY'
An editorial for Belgian daily Le Soir described the city as becoming "nothing more than a siren" as emergency services descended on the airport and metro, locking down streets amidst the panic.
"The sound is continuous, it comes from everywhere, crossing the city like an open wound."
People in the street stopped what they were doing, watching helplessly, "their eyes empty".
"It's the sadness above all that is infinite, it oozes from the paving stones, it trickles from the footpaths."
Belgians were dealing with their first suicide attacks, and with the fear which accompanies them, reported Le Soir.
"Lockdown, here we are again. But this time by surprise, with a feeling of being taken hostage, by surprise, of having to flee a place which should be associated with life, not with death."
'THIS FEELS LIKE WAR'
Armen Cholakian, a consultant for the European Commission, was running late as he walked toward the Maalbeek subway station.
"As I approached the station, suddenly the whole front entrance disintegrated," he told ITV News. "There was glass, shrapnel, flying metal."
"It was a surreal moment, because there wasn't a sound of the explosion, but you certainly saw what happened. And it was pretty devastating – you could clearly see a shockwave destroy the whole front side of the station, even though the explosion occurred somewhere far away, deep inside the station."
Marc Noel, 63, was awaiting a flight from Brussels to Atlanta when he decided to buy some car magazines for the flight – an act he thinks may have saved his life.
He was in an airport shop when the first explosion struck about 50m away, bringing down a chunk of the ceiling.
"People were crying, shouting, children. It was a horrible experience," said Noel, a Belgian who lives in the US.
"I don't want to think about it, but I would probably have been in that place when the bomb went off."
He said a second blast hit 10 to 15 seconds later.
"This feel likes war – fire engines, police everywhere," said Noel, as he and hundreds of other passengers toting their hand luggage were evacuated to the town of Zavantem.
"I was as close as I could be to the other side," he told AP. "It hasn't happened yet. I guess it's not my hour."
SHOUTS IN ARABIC, SHOTS FIRED
The Belga agency said shots were fired and there were shouts in Arabic shortly before two blasts rang out at the airport.
Police found a Kalashnikov assault rifle next to the body of an attacker, local media reported. An unused explosive belt was also found in the area.
Smoke was seen rising from the airport terminal building through shattered windows and passengers running away down a slipway, some still hauling their bags, in the minutes after the attacks.
A third bomb found at the airport was "neutralised" by a bomb squad, an airport spokeswoman said.
Following the blast suspicious objects were detonated at Maalbeek subway station and close to Brussels University, a few kilometres further away, but neither contained explosives, authorities said.
KIWIS IN BELGIUM
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) said it was not aware of any Kiwis being caught up in the attack.
There were 72 New Zealanders registered on Safe Travel as being in Belgium and a message had been sent to all registrants, encouraging them to get in touch with family in New Zealand to confirm their well-being and provide contact numbers if they required consular assistance.
"A steady stream of positive responses has been received overnight," Mfat said.
Following the attacks, a three-day mourning period was declared by Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Emotional tributes were being posted on Twitter and crowds gathered at La Bourse in Brussels to grieve.
A cartoon drawn by French cartoonist Plantu, depicting a crying person in the French tricoleur comforting a person covered in the Belgian flag had been used by many expressing their shock.
– Reuters, with Stuff and agencies