Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Terror attacks hit Brussels

The Belgian capital Brussels was hit by a series of explosions Tuesday after a suicide bomber blew himself up at the city’s airport

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world
Al-Ahram Weekly

Europe is holding its breath after at least 34 people were killed and 198 injured in the Belgian capital Brussels Tuesday in a series of bomb attacks. Targeted were the city’s Zaventem Airport and the Maelbeek Metro Station near the European Union headquarters.

The airport explosion was caused by a suicide bomber, according to media reports. The Amaq News Agency, linked to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, reported that IS has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

“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 Maelbeek metro station,” Amaq News Agency reported.

The city was immediately put into a state of lockdown after the explosions, which took place in quick succession during the Tuesday morning rush hour. The Belgian media reported that as many as 14 people had been killed and 81 injured by the two explosions at airport, and 20 killed at Maelbeek and more than a 100 wounded, 17 of them seriously.

The explosions at Zaventem Airport occurred in the departure hall at about 8am local time. People were shown fleeing the terminal as smoke billowed from the roof of the building. The airport was closed, all flights were cancelled and the country’s terror alert was raised to maximum level, a measure that was quickly adopted by neighbouring countries. The Belgian security forces also carried out a controlled explosion at Brussels Airport Tuesday afternoon after an intact explosive belt was found inside the airport.

The Tuesday attack is not the first on European soil. In November, a terrorist attack by IS in Paris took the lives of 130 people and sent shockwaves through the continent. The European Union is currently struggling to keep the union united amid the crisis of large numbers of refugees and economic difficulties. People are now questioning the future of the union.

After the attack in November, many politicians called for more border controls, and limitations on free movement in the union. The attackers, who were all European citizens, are suspected to have travelled back to Europe after trips to Syria.

As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, the exact sequence of the Tuesday events was still not known, and there was no official confirmation from the Belgian authorities that the blasts were in fact a terrorist attack by IS. However, Belgian and European security officials have been braced for a major security event for weeks. The arrest of Salah Abdesalam in Brussels last week, suspected of having taken part in the terrorist attacks on Paris in November, heightened the state of alert.

After Abdesalam was arrested, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said that authorities had learned that Abdesalam had created a new network and had access to weapons, though there was no immediate indication that he or IS had any involvement in Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels.

For the moment, Abdesalam is in custody in Belgium pending an application by French authorities for him to be transferred to France. His lawyer, Sven Mary, said at the weekend that Abdesalam would be appealing against his transfer in the courts, though this is unlikely to prevent him from being sent to France.

Little is known about Abdesalam’s activities since he disappeared in the wake of last November’s attacks. However, Reynders said he had received the “aid of friends, and also of criminal networks” while on the run in Belgium after the attacks.

Not long after the Tuesday attacks, Peter Foster, the Europe editor at the English newspaper The Telegraph, wrote, “This latest terror outrage delivers a triple blow to Europe and its cherished notions of open borders, free movement, tolerance and free speech.” He suggested that the attack would lead to more steps to limit free movement and would “sow yet more seeds of doubt in the minds of British voters”, who are to vote on Britain’s EU membership in June.

“Terrorists struck Brussels, but it was Europe that was targeted,” said France’s President François Hollande after the Tuesday attack. He said that Europe is facing a global threat that requires a global answer and called for unity.

The social media platform Twitter was filled with messages of support for the victims Tuesday, but several users also questioned the success of European integration strategies relative to refugees and, for some, particularly Muslims.

Controversial English columnist Katie Hopkins tweeted that Europe is not safe, writing, “Every one of you who said refugees are welcome, if you said ‘let them in’. You are responsible for Brussels. And you still can’t see.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, the leading Belgian daily Le Soir reported that train stations in Brussels had re-opened. Belgium has declared three days of national mourning for those killed in the Brussels attacks.

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