BRUSSELS — ISIS claimed to strike yet again on European soil Tuesday, saying its “fighters” launched attacks on the airport and a subway station in Belgium’s capital that killed at least 30 people and wounded about 230 more.
While jarring, the carnage wasn’t altogether surprising. Belgium has been going after terrorist threats for months, as illustrated by last week’s capture of Europe’s most wanted man, Salah Abdeslam, in a bloody raid in Brussels.
“We were fearing terrorist attacks,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters Tuesday. “And that has now happened.”
A Belgian government representative said 20 people died at the Maelbeek metro station and 130 were wounded, plus 10 more were killed and 100 wounded at Brussels’ international airport.
The “working assumption” is that the attackers came from the same network behind November’s massacres in Paris, which left 130 dead, Belgian security sources said, while cautioning it is very early in the latest investigation.
After Tuesday’s attacks, Belgian state broadcaster RTBF reported that Belgian authorities carried out raids at midday in a search for people linked to the attacks. Around 9 a.m. MDT, the network said new raids were taking place in the northeast Brussels district of Schaerbeek.
Belgian authorities have given their U.S. counterparts pictures of three possible attack suspects, a U.S. law enforcement official said. None of the men, who were shown pushing luggage carts, has been identified by name, nor was it immediately known if any attackers are at large.
ISIS — as it has for other terrorist attacks in Europe, Asia and Africa — embraced all the assailants. Its claim noted that Belgium is “participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State.”
In fact, Belgian warplanes flew 796 sorties and launched 163 airstrikes over Iraq from September 2014 to July 2015, according to the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, and were set to resume these operations this summer.
And the extremist group may not be done. One Twitter post widely circulated by prominent ISIS backers featured the words, “What will be coming is worse.”
‘It was a matter of time’
At least one of the two airport explosions was a suicide bombing, Van Leeuw said. A blast happened there outside the security checkpoints for ticketed passengers and near the airline check-in counters, an airline official briefed on the situation said.
The subway station blast happened in the Brussels district of Maelbeek, near the European Quarter, where much of the European Union is based.
Richard Medic, who arrived at the metro station shortly after that explosion, wasn’t surprised by the carnage after all that Europe has gone through recently, including November’s massacre in Paris that ISIS claimed responsibility for.
“I think, after the Paris attacks, we were assuming something like this would happen,” the Brussels said. “And it was a matter of time.”
Yet Versele, the airport witness, said that he thinks Belgians should not hole themselves up.
Instead, he said, they should continue to live their lives and travel “to prove that we’re not afraid of those who have done (the attacks).”
Two nuclear power plants evacuated
Belgian authorities bolstered security after Tuesday’s attacks, including shutting down all Brussels metro stations and evacuating the city’s airport.
This comes as the terror threat level in Belgium went up to four — its highest. That step-up means that army soldiers can be sent onto the streets to meet security needs.
In addition to the airport’s evacuation, subway transit around Brussels stopped and several of the city’s top shopping centers closed Tuesday and perhaps beyond, RTBF reported.
The broadcaster also said the National Pensions Office in Brussels was cleared after two suspicious packages were found inside.
All but essential staff were sent home from two nuclear power plants in Belgium — one in Tihange and the other in Doel, said a representative of Engie, the French company that operates the facilities. Belgian authorities ordered this evacuation, though the representative did not provide further details.
The effects of Tuesday’s attacks have been felt outside the Belgian capital as well.
As far away as the United States, authorities in places like New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles took special precautions like increased K9 sweeps of subways and additional police patrols. This was especially true around airports, subway stops and train stations, with scenes like those in the U.S. capital — where police pulled out and checked travelers at random — not uncommon.
“This is yet another reminder that the world must unite,” U.S. President Barack Obama said from Cuba, where he’s on a historic visit. “We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”