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At Least 31 Dead in Bombings Of Brussels Airport, Subway

People react as they walk away from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
People react as they walk away from Brussels airport after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium Tuesday March 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Updated 1:00 PM EST

BRUSSELS — Bombs exploded Tuesday at the Brussels airport and in the city's subway, killing at least 31 people and wounding dozens, as a European capital was again locked down amid heightened security threats. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The two airport blasts, at least one of them blamed on a suicide bomber, left behind a chaotic scene of splattered blood in the departure lounge as windows were blown out, ceilings collapsed and travelers streamed out of the smoky building.

About an hour later, another bomb exploded on a rush-hour subway train near the European Union headquarters. Terrified passengers had to evacuate through darkened tunnels to safety.

"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 for most of the workday. Airports across Europe immediately tightened security.

RELATED STORY:  European Command and NATO on High Alert after Brussels Terror Attacks

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

Added French President Francois Hollande: "Terrorists struck Brussels, but it was Europe that was targeted, and it is all the world which is concerned by this."

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 Salah Abdeslam, 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.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Brussels attacks, saying in a posting on the group's Amaq news agency that its extremists opened fire in the airport and "several of them" detonated suicide belts. It said another suicide attacker struck in the subway.

The posting claimed the attack was in response to Belgium's support of the international coalition arrayed against the group.

Police found and neutralized a third bomb at the airport once the chaos after the two initial blasts had eased, said Florence Muls, a spokeswoman for the airport told The Associated Press. Bomb squads also detonated suspicious objects found in at least two locations elsewhere in the capital, but neither contained explosives, authorities said.

Michel said there was no immediate evidence linking the attacks with Abdeslam. After his arrest, Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to "do whatever is necessary" to help Belgian authorities seek justice.

"We stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people," Obama said in Havana, where he was closing a three-day visit.

Western Europe has lived for decades under the threat of violence from homegrown nationalist and revolutionary movements. Muslim extremists from North Africa and the Middle East have attacked civilian targets without warning, ranging from France's 1960s war in Algeria through Libya's 1988 downing of an airline over Scotland to the 2004-05 attacks on the public transportation systems of London and Madrid.

Certain neighborhoods in Brussels, like the Molenbeek quarter, have bred extremists and supplied foreign fighters. Plotters linked to the Paris attacks and others have either moved through or lived in parts of the city.

Tuesday's explosions at the airport in the Brussels suburb of Zaventem came shortly after 8 a.m., one of its busiest periods. Belgian Health Minister Maggie de Block said 11 people were killed and 81 wounded. Eleven people had serious injuries, Marc Decramer of the Gasthuisberg hospital in Leuven told broadcaster VTM. The nails apparently came from one of the bombs.

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.

Video taken moments after the explosions showed travelers huddled next to airport check-in counters and lying near luggage and trolleys as dust and the cries of the wounded filled the air. Dazed people stumbled from the scene, some with clothes and shoes blown off.

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 a Starbucks cafe.

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

The subway bombing came after 9 a.m., killing 20 people and wounding more than 100, Mayor Yvan Majeur said.

"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."

Near the entrance to the station, rescue workers set up a makeshift medical treatment center in a pub. Dazed and shocked morning commuters streamed from the metro entrances as police tried to set up a security cordon.

The airport was ordered closed for the rest of the day and CEO Arnaud Feist said the facility would be closed all of Wednesday and perhaps even longer. More than 200 flights to Brussels were diverted or canceled, according to flight tracking service Flightradar24.

The metro also was ordered closed as the city was locked down. By the end of the workday, city officials said residents could begin moving around on the streets of the capital and train stations were reopening. But Peter Mertens of the Belgian crisis center said the threat of more attacks "is still real and serious."

At least one and possibly two Kalashnikovs were found in the departure lounge at the airport, according to a European security official in contact with a Belgian police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the ongoing investigation. It was not immediately clear whether the firearms were used in the attacks.

Travelers fled the airport as quickly as they could. In video shown on France's i-Tele television, men, women and children dashed from the terminal in different directions. Security officers patrolled a hall with blown-out paneling and ceiling panels 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 said he was in an airport shop buying automotive magazines when the first blast struck about 50 yards away.

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

Associated Press Writers Raf Casert in Brussels, Angela Charlton and Lori Hinnant in Paris and Paisley Dodds in London contributed to this report.

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Original Story:

BRUSSELS -- Authorities locked down the Belgian capital on Tuesday after explosions rocked the Brussels airport and subway system, killing at least 13 people and injuring many more. Belgium raised its terror alert to its highest level, diverting arriving planes and trains and ordering people to stay where they were. Airports across Europe tightened security.

The explosions, which the Brussels prosecutor's office called terror attacks, came just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in Brussels. After his arrest, Salah Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.

RELATED STORY:  European Command and NATO on High Alert after Brussels Terror Attacks

At the Brussels airport, two explosions splattered blood across the departure lounge and collapsed the ceiling. Witnesses told The Associated Press that one occurred at an excess baggage payment counter and the other near a Starbucks cafe. All flights were canceled, arriving planes and trains were diverted and Belgium's terror alert level was raised to its highest level. 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.

U.S. citizens traveling in Belgium were advised by the U.S. embassy in Brussels to shelter in place.

"The U.S. Embassy recommends sheltering in place and avoiding all public transportation," they said in a statement on the State Department website.

U.S. European Command, which oversees U.S. military forces stationed in Brussels, had not yet issued a statement or updated travel restrictions for U.S. troops, Defense Department civilians or family members. Brussels is home to NATO's official headquarters, though NATO's military Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe is located about 50 miles south of the city.

A Belgium travel ban for troops not on official business and families stationed in Europe on orders had been issued and then lifted late last year after the Paris attacks.

European security officials have been braced for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. Abdeslam's arrest on Friday heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved in the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris than originally thought, and that some are still on the loose.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attacks.

Belgian media reported 13 people were killed at the airport. It was not clear whether any died in the metro explosion. 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 the Maelbeek subway station, not far from the headquarters of the European Union, rescue workers set up a makeshift treatment center in a pub. Dazed and shocked morning travelers streamed from the metro entrances as police tried to set up a security cordon.

"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 that there appeared to have been just one explosion, in a car that was stopped at Maelbeek.

First responders ran through the street outside with two people on stretchers, their clothes badly torn.

The explosions at the airport hit at the middle of the busiest time there. Smoke was seen billowing out of the terminal.

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 was the first explosion occurred about 50 yards away.

"People were crying, shouting, children. It was a horrible experience," he told AP. He said his decision to buy the magazines might have saved his life. "I don't want to think about it, but 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 center urged people not to come to the airport.

--Associated Press Writers Raf Casert in Brussels and Angela Charlton and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.

-- Military.com reporter Amy Bushatz contributed to this report.

Related Topics

Belgium Terrorism Headlines Global Hot Spots NATO

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