Islamic State group claims Brussels attacks while Belgium mourns

Islamic State group claims Brussels attacks while Belgium mourns
Video: The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for three bomb blasts in Brussels, killing at least 30, as Belgium becomes the focus of a global outpouring of grief.
4 min read
22 March, 2016

Brussels explosions

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a series of bomb blasts at Brussels airport and a packed metro station early Tuesday morning.

An online media organisation affiliated to the group said IS militants carried out the attack, which has left at least 30 people dead.

The news came as Belgian authorities found a third unexploded bomb vest at Brussels international airport, and said an IS-linked suspect was still at large.

"Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the centre of the Belgian capital, Brussels, a country participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State," the IS-affiliated Aamaq outlet said.

"Islamic State fighters opened fire inside Zaventem Airport, before several of them detonated their explosive belts, as a martyrdom bomber detonated his explosive belt in the Maalbeek metro station," the agency added.

Read more: Dozens dead after explosions rip through Belgium's capital

Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a group of opposition media activists operating in secret in the heart of IS' Syrian stronghold, spoke to The New Arab.

"IS fighters here are happy," one of the group told us. "But they say 'we need attacks in the USA, not more in Europe'."

CCTV footage was released showing the three suspects - all young men. Two of them, wearing dark tops, are believed to have died in the attack, while the third suspect is on the run.

Police believe that his suicide bomb vest - found at the scene - failed to detonate. An assault rifle was also discovered next to one of the dead suspects.

No official announcement has been made by the group but there has been mounting evidence through the day that IS was behind the attacks.

By capita, Belgium has the highest number of nationals fighting in Syria of any European country. The figure is twice that of France and four times higher than the UK.

Week of drama

The attacks come just four days after the arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam - the prime suspect in the Paris attacks claimed by IS - after four months on the run.

Around 21 people were arrested in anti-terror raids on Sunday night and earlier in the week by Belgium police.

Even after Abdeslam's arrest was confirmed, Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel warned that future IS attacks were likely.
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"What we fear is an attack similar to the one in Paris, with several individuals who could possibly launch several attacks at the same time in multiple locations," he told a news conference.  

He kept Brussels on its fourth and highest level of security threat - meaning the threat of an attack was "serious and imminent" - as reports emerged that suspected militants escaped through the window during the swoop on Abdeslam. 

On Tuesday evening, Brussels remained in lockdown in fear that militants could carry out further attacks.

Soldiers patrolled the streets of Brussels as rail, bus and metro services ground to a halt. With internet and phone lines overloaded, residents organised car-pooling to help stranded residents return home.

Heart of Europe

Vigils took place across the city for the dozens believed to be dead, while messages of solidarity were shared on social media.

Heart-rending images online showed Belgian cartoon hero Tintin weeping at the deaths.

World leaders lined up to speak about the tragedy, including United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon who offered his "heartfelt condolences" to the city's residents.

"The despicable attacks today struck at the heart of Belgium and the center of the European Union," he said in a statement. "The secretary-general hopes those responsible will be swiftly brought to justice."

Brussels - the heart of European politics - is temporarily cut off from its European neighbours as the airport remains closed and rail links are cancelled. Yet online, the world is reaching out to Belgium.