Blast at Brussels Central Station classed as terrorist attack after troops shoot suspected bomber
Belgium troops shot dead a suspected suicide bomber in the Brussels city centre on Tuesday after a small explosion at Central Station.
There were no other casualties, police said. Ten minutes earlier, police had cordoned off the area after reports of an explosion.
Federal prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt told reporters some three hours after the incident that the small blast was being treated as a "terrorist attack".
Only hours later, after bomb disposal teams had cleared the area, was the man confirmed dead. There was no word on his identity. Associated Press reported it was a "foiled terror attack".
Van Der Sypt declined to comment on witness accounts that he had shouted Islamist slogans, including "Allahu Akbar" - God is greater, in Arabic - before detonating a device on a luggage trolley in an underground concourse of the rail station.
Photographs posted to social media from the scene appeared to show a fire burning inside the station.
Remy Bonnaffe, a 23-year-old lawyer who was waiting on the concourse for a train home to Ghent, said he was startled by an explosion as he listened to music on his headphones. He took the widely shared photograph of flames shooting up from what he thought was a briefcase. There was a second blast further away, which he could not see, followed by what sounded like gunfire, prompting him to run.
"I think we had some luck tonight," he said. "I'm happy that no one was injured and that this was basically a failed attempt." People just feet from the explosion appeared unhurt and he said he saw no obvious damage to the walls around.
A police spokesman could not confirm media reports the person had been wearing an explosive vest.
Belguim's national alert level was maintained at its second highest level.
Security experts said the incident could have been similar to "lone wolf" assaults carried out by radicalised individuals with limited access to weapons and training.
"Such isolated acts will continue in Brussels, in Paris and elsewhere. It's inevitable," Brussels security consultant Claude Moniquet, a former French agent, told broadcaster RTL.
With Isis under pressure in Syria - where Belgium has been the most fertile European recruiting ground for foreign Islamist fighters - he said attacks in Europe could increase, though many of these would be by "amateurs" doing little harm.
Prime Minister Charles Michel convened a National Security Council meeting for early Wednesday, tweeted his thanks to the security forces and railway staff for their professionalism and courage.
He compared Tuesday's incident to that on Paris' Champs-Elysees avenue a day earlier, when a man was killed when he rammed his car, filled with explosive and weapons, into a French police convoy. No one else was injured.
Stationmaster Jean-Michel Michel was quoted by DH newspaper as saying: "We heard the explosion. My colleague thought it was a bomb. The explosion was on the mezzanine level. The man went down to platforms three and four. He said 'Allahu Akbar'... I would put him at about 35 years old."
Het Laatste Nieuws tabloid newspaper quoted what it said were other witnesses saying a man shouted "Allahu Akbar" before a small explosion. Soldiers ran toward the spot, saw wires protruding from the man's clothes, and shot him. That account could not be independently confirmed.
The station and the adjacent historic downtown area, packed with tourists and locals on a hot summer evening, was partly evacuated as police set up a security cordon, witnesses told Belgian media.
The city has been on high alert for more than 18 months since Brussels-based Isis militants carried out attacks in Paris that killed 130 people there in November 2015 and later bombed Brussels airport and the city's metro in March last year.
Nicolas Van Herrewegen, a station employee, told public broadcaster RTBF that he saw a man shouting in a lower level of the 1930s station, which serves lines running under the city centre.
He then shout in Arabic and to detonate something on a luggage trolley. People standing within three metres of the trolley were unhurt, Herrewegen said.
A police spokesman earlier said: "There was an accident at Central Station. There was an explosion around a person. That person was neutralised by the soldiers that were on the scene.
"At the moment, the police are in numbers at the station and everything is under control."
The Belgian capital's Grand Place, a major tourist site, was evacuated along with the station about 200 metres away.
Suspect at Brussels train station shouted "Allahu Akbar" before being shot by soldiers, witnesses say.— Josh Caplan (@joshdcaplan) June 20, 2017