At least 34 people are dead and many seriously injured in a series of terrorist attacks that targeted Brussels Zaventem International Airport at 08:00 today (22 March) and Maelbeek metro station in downtown Brussels an hour later. As many as 14 killed and 81 injured have so far been confirmed in the airport attacks, while 20 people were left dead and scores injured in the metro blasts, Belgian authorities have reported. The country has raised its terrorism threat to its highest level and three days of national mourning have been declared. The airport and the entire public transport system in Brussels are closed, although some train stations are expected to reopen later today.
The attacks come only four days after Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive in the Paris attacks, was detained in Brussels. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called the latest attacks “blind, violent and cowardly” while European Council President Donald Tusk commented that “These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence.” But apart from these official statements condemning the terrorist attacks, European Union officials throughout today evaded questions from the media on whether EU institutions were their likely targets in downtown Brussels. Especially the explosion at Maelbeek metro station – located in the heart of the so-called ‘European District – raises the question whether the EU institutions, and their commuting employees, were a main target.
The bomb went off in one of the metro trains approaching Maelbeek just after 9am during the morning rush hour, which is only 350 meters away from the main Commission headquarters and the Council building that often hosts summits with EU Heads of State. Maelbeek metro station is also located on the same street as the Commission’s DG Agriculture and Rural Development building and it also serves as the main destination for many officials and politicians coming to work at the European Parliament. EU officials interviewed by EUBULLETIN earlier today have described the attacks as being of “unprecedented scale” in Belgium in that they hit the “main symbols” of Brussels.