Belgium hunts IS bombings suspects as country mourns

March 23, 2016 10:46 am
Belgian police issued an appeal Wednesday for information about two of the suspects/AFP
Belgian police issued an appeal Wednesday for information about two of the suspects/AFP

, BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 23 – Belgian investigators were on Wednesday hunting a man seen fleeing Brussels airport after a suicide bombing, as the country held three days of mourning for around 35 people killed in twin attacks by Islamic State jihadists.

Two massive suicide blasts by men with bombs in their bags hit Zaventem Airport on Tuesday morning, leaving blood and mangled bodies strewn across the check-in hall and sending terrified travellers fleeing.

Belgian police issued an appeal Wednesday for information about two of the suspects.

The police posted several tweets with the caption “Terrorism: who knows this man?”, showing close-ups from closed circuit television of two men pushing trolleys with suitcases on them through the airport departure hall.

Belgian authorities have also released pictures of a third man whose explosives did not go off.

At around 09:00 am (0800 GMT), an hour after the airport blasts, a third explosion rocked Maalbeek metro station, in the heart of the city’s EU quarter, just as commuters were making their way to work.

Police helicopters hovered over the city late into the night and prosecutors said raids were carried out across Belgium, adding that a bomb, an Islamic State flag and chemicals had been found in one apartment.

The fact that extremists were able to hit high-profile targets in Brussels, capital of the European Union, just months after IS militants killed 130 people in Paris, will raise fresh questions about the continent’s ability to prevent terrorism.

It also underscores doubts about how Belgium has allowed extremism to develop unchecked, coming days after key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was arrested in Brussels following four months on the run.

“This is a day of tragedy, a black day,” Prime Minister Charles Michel said, vowing the country would not be cowed by the “deadliest attacks we have ever seen in Belgium”.

– Belgium in mourning –

Flags will fly at half mast at public buildings across Belgium for three days of national mourning through Thursday, after crowds gathered in the Place de la Bourse square to sing songs and lay flowers in memory of the dead.

“People were just going to work, to school and they have been cut down by the most extreme barbarity,” Michel said. “We will continue to protect liberty, our way of life.”

The Islamic State claimed the bombings, saying “soldiers of the caliphate” had carried out the attacks against “the crusader state” of Belgium.

Leaders across Europe reacted with outrage, with the EU vowing to combat terrorism “with all means necessary” on a continent that has been on high alert for months.

“The whole of Europe has been hit,” said French President Francois Hollande, whose country is still reeling from November’s attacks.

Landmarks from the Eiffel Tower in Paris to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate were lit up in the black, yellow and red of Belgium’s national flag in solidarity, while social media users shared images of beloved Belgian cartoon character Tintin in tears.

Part 1 | Part 2

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