NEWS

Brussels Attacks: Explosions At Airport, Subway System Lock Down Belgian Capital

03/22/2016 07:06 EDT | Updated 03/22/2016 09:59 EDT

BRUSSELS — Attackers detonated bombs at the airport and on a metro train beneath the European Union's capital on Tuesday, killing at least 26 people and confirming the worst fears of European officials, who proclaimed the continent at war.

Two explosions, at least one likely caused by a suicide bomber, hit the departures area of Brussels' Zaventem airport during the busy morning rush, collapsing the ceiling and sending panicked travellers rushing for cover. Belgian Health Minister Maggie de Block told Belgian media that 11 people were killed and 81 injured.

An hour later, another 15 people were killed and 55 injured in an explosion on a subway train not far from the headquarters of the European Union, a spokesman for the Brussels Metro said.

"People were crying, shouting, children. It was a horrible experience,"

"What we feared has happened," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters. "In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity."

Belgium raised its terror alert to the highest level, diverting planes and trains and ordering people to stay where they were. Airports across Europe immediately tightened security.

"We are at war," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after a crisis meeting called by the French president. "We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war."

brussels attacks

An injured person is evacuated as emergency services attend the scene after an explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on March 22, 2016. (The Associated Press)

European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. The arrest Friday of a key suspect in the November attacks in Paris heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved than originally thought, and that some are still on the loose.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, and Michel said there was no immediate evidence linking key Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam to them. After his arrest Friday, Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.

At the airport, explosions splattered blood across the departure lounge Smoke was seen billowing out of the terminal.

"There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere."

Anthony Deloos, an airport worker for Swissport, which handles check-in and baggage services, said the first explosion took place near the Swissport counters where customers pay for overweight baggage. He and a colleague said the second blast hit near the Starbucks cafe.

"We heard a big explosion. It's like when you're in a party and suddenly your hearing goes out, from like a big noise," Deloos said, adding that shredded paper floated through the air as a colleague told him to run.

"I jumped into a luggage chute to be safe," he said.

Tom De Doncker, 21, check-in agent intern, was near the site of the second explosion.

"I saw a soldier pulling away a body," he said. "It felt like I was hit too" from the concussion of the blast.

brussels attacks

An injured woman leaves the scene at Brussels airport, after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. (David Crunelle via AP)

Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the first blast, told BFM television that the second, louder explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with victims' blood.

"It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed," he said. "There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere."

"We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene," he said.

Near the entrance to Brussels' Maelbeek subway station, not far from the headquarters of the European Union, rescue workers set up a makeshift medical treatment centre in a pub. Dazed and shocked morning commuters streamed from the metro entrances as police tried to set up a security cordon.

"We are at war."

"The metro was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion," said Alexandre Brans, 32, wiping blood from his face. "It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the metro."

Francoise Ledune, a spokeswoman for the Brussels Metro, said on BFM television there appeared to have been just one explosion on the subway in a car that was stopped at Maelbeek. Spokesman Guy Sablon said 15 were killed and 55 injured in that attack.

At the airport, passengers fled as quickly as they could.

Amateur video shown on France's i-Tele television showed passengers including a child running with a backpack dashing out of the terminal in different directions as they tugged luggage. Another image showed a security officer patrolling inside a hall with blown-out paneling and what appeared to be ceiling insulation covering the floor.

Marc Noel, 63, was about to board a Delta flight to Atlanta, to return to his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. A Belgian native, Noel says he was in an airport shop buying automobile magazines when the first explosion occurred 50 yards away.

"People were crying, shouting, children. It was a horrible experience," he told AP. He said his decision to shop might have saved his life. "I would probably have been in that place when the bomb went off."

With three runways in the shape of a "Z," the airport connects Europe's capital to 226 destinations around the world and handled nearly 23.5 million passengers in 2015.

Passengers were led onto the tarmac and the crisis centre urged people not to come to the airport. More than 200 flights to Brussels were diverted or cancelled, according to flight tracking service Flightradar24

Authorities told people in Brussels to stay where they were, bringing the city to a standstill. Airport security was also tightened in Paris, London and other European cities.

In Paris, France's top security official said the country was immediately reinforcing security at airports, train stations and metros.

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A woman is evacuated in an ambulance by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A woman is evacuated in an ambulance by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A victim wearing a blanket is evacuated by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Police direct emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A woman is evacuated in an ambulance by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People walk away from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People react as they walk away from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People react as they walk away from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    An injured man gestures outsude Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People react outside Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People react outside Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People react outside Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People are evacuated from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People react outside Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • SEPPE KNAPEN via Getty Images
    A picture taken on March 22, 2016 shows smoke rising from the Maalbeek underground, in Brussels, following a blast at the station close to the capital's European quarter. The Brussels metro service was being shut down on March 22, its operator said. The measure came after a rush-hour explosion at Maalbeek station with TV images showing black smoke pouring from the station entrance. / AFP / Belga / Seppe KNAPEN / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read SEPPE KNAPEN/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • JOHN THYS via Getty Images
    Passengers are gathered near Brussels airport, on March 22, 2016 in Zaventem, following its evacuation after at least 13 people were killed and 35 injured as twin blasts rocked the main terminal of Brussels airport.AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS / AFP / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this photo provided by Georgian Public Broadcaster and photographed by Ketevan Kardava two women wounded in Brussels Airport in Brussels, Belgium, after explosions were heard Tuesday, March 22, 2016. A developing situation left at least one person and possibly more dead in explosions that ripped through the departure hall at Brussels airport Tuesday, police said. All flights were canceled, arriving planes were being diverted and Belgium's terror alert level was raised to maximum, officials said. (Ketevan Kardava/ Georgian Public Broadcaster via AP)
  • Emergency services at the scene of explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this photo provided by Georgian Public Broadcaster and photographed by Ketevan Kardava a man is wounded in Brussels Airport in Brussels, Belgium, after explosions were heard Tuesday, March 22, 2016. A developing situation left at least one person and possibly more dead in explosions that ripped through the departure hall at Brussels airport Tuesday, police said. All flights were canceled, arriving planes were being diverted and Belgium's terror alert level was raised to maximum, officials said. (Ketevan Kardava/ Georgian Public Broadcaster via AP)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this image provided by Daniela Schwarzer, smoke is seen at Brussels airport in Brussels, Belgium, after explosions were heard Tuesday, March 22, 2016. (Daniela Schwarzer via AP)
  • JONAS ROOSENS via Getty Images
    A picture taken on March 22, 2016 shows a Belgian police vehicle driving past passengers who are evacuating the Brussels Airport of Zaventem. At least 13 people were killed and 35 injured as twin blasts rocked the main terminal of Brussels airport on March 22, 2016, Belgian media quoted the federal prosecutor as saying. Officials were not immediately available to confirm the figure when contacted by AFP. The federal police earlier confirmed one death. / AFP / Belga / Jonas Roosens / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read JONAS ROOSENS/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • JONAS ROOSENS via Getty Images
    A picture taken on March 22, 2016 shows a Belgian police vehicle driving past passengers who are evacuating the Brussels Airport of Zaventem. At least 13 people were killed and 35 injured as twin blasts rocked the main terminal of Brussels airport on March 22, 2016, Belgian media quoted the federal prosecutor as saying. Officials were not immediately available to confirm the figure when contacted by AFP. The federal police earlier confirmed one death. / AFP / Belga / Jonas Roosens / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read JONAS ROOSENS/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
    BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22 : Police officers stand guard around the Zaventem Airport after two explosions went off in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • THIERRY MONASSE via Getty Images
    A photo shows cars on a blocked highway near Zaventem, Brussels National airport, on March 22, 2016 after two explosions rocked the main hall of Brussels Airport, killing at least one person and wounding several others, officials said. AFP PHOTO / THIERRY MONASSE / AFP / THIERRY MONASSE (Photo credit should read THIERRY MONASSE/AFP/Getty Images)
  • THIERRY MONASSE via Getty Images
    People walk on a blocked highway near Zaventem, leading to Brussels National airport, on March 22, 2016 after two explosions rocked the main hall of Brussels Airport, killing at least one person and wounding several others, officials said. AFP PHOTO / THIERRY MONASSE / AFP / THIERRY MONASSE (Photo credit should read THIERRY MONASSE/AFP/Getty Images)
  • THIERRY MONASSE via Getty Images
    A photo shows cars on a blocked highway near Zaventem, leading to Brussels National airport, on March 22, 2016 after two explosions rocked the main hall of Brussels Airport, killing at least one person and wounding several others, officials said. AFP PHOTO / THIERRY MONASSE / AFP / THIERRY MONASSE (Photo credit should read THIERRY MONASSE/AFP/Getty Images)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this image made from video, emergency rescue workers stretcher an unidentified person at the site of an explosion at a metro station in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said.(APTN via AP)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    People walk away from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A woman is evacuated in an ambulance by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A victim is evacuated by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A victim is evacuated by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A victim is evacuated on a stretcher by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Sylvan Plazy)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A woman is evacuated by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A woman is evacuated in an ambulance by emergency services after a explosion in a main metro station in Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Explosions rocked the Brussels airport and the subway system Tuesday, killing at least 13 people and injuring many others just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in the city, police said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this photo provided by Georgian Public Broadcaster and photographed by Ketevan Kardava a man is wounded in Brussels Airport in Brussels, Belgium, after explosions were heard Tuesday, March 22, 2016. A developing situation left at least one person and possibly more dead in explosions that ripped through the departure hall at Brussels airport Tuesday, police said. All flights were canceled, arriving planes were being diverted and Belgium's terror alert level was raised to maximum, officials said. (Ketevan Kardava/ Georgian Public Broadcaster via AP)
  • EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images
    A helicopter of the Belgian police flies above the area near Maalbeek metro station, on March 22, 2016 in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
  • EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images
    Policemen stand guard at the entrance of a security perimeter set near Maalbeek metro station, on March 22, 2016 in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
  • EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images
    Policemen stand guard at the entrance of a security perimeter set near Maalbeek metro station, on March 22, 2016 in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
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    A victim receives first aid by rescuers, on March 22, 2016 near Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
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    A victim receives first aid by rescuers, on March 22, 2016 near Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
  • VIRGINIE LEFOUR via Getty Images
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    People are evacuated from Brussels Airport, in Zaventem, on March 22, 2016 after at least 13 people have been killed by two explosions in the departure hall of Brussels Airport. / AFP / Belga / VIRGINIE LEFOUR / Belgium OUT (Photo credit should read VIRGINIE LEFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
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    A victim receives first aid by rescuers, on March 22, 2016 near Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)