BRUSSELS -- Powerful bomb blasts struck the main airport and the subway system in Brussels on March 22, killing at least 34 people in attacks claimed by the extremist group Islamic State.
Belgium raised its terror alert to its highest level and dispatched 225 extra troops to Brussels following what Belgian authorities called "violent, cowardly" terrorist attacks. More than 180 people were wounded.
The blasts left grim scenes of carnage and prompted a virtual lockdown in the city that hosts the headquarters of the European Union and NATO. Witnesses described a subway car “exploding” and a blood-soaked airport terminal.
AMAQ, a news agency affiliated with Islamic State extremists, carried the claim of responsibility.
"Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the centre of the Belgian capital Brussels," it said.
U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the "outrageous attacks against innocent people, and EU leaders expressed anger over what Sweden's prime minister called an "attack against democratic Europe."
Public transport was shut down in Brussels, incoming planes and trains were diverted, and authorities urged residents to "stay where you are." EU personnel were instructed to remain indoors, and flags outside the European Commission flew at half-staff.
"This is a dark moment for our nation," said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, who denounced the "blind, violent, cowardly" attacks. EU President Donald Tusk said "These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence.
Speaking at a news conference, Federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said the twin explosions that rocked the Zaventem airport and the blast that ripped through a carriage at Brussels' central Maalbeek metro station half an hour later were all "terrorist attacks."
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Photos posted on the Internet showed gruesome scenes of damage and destruction at the airport. A security worker who helped carry the bodies of victims outside told Reuters that some of them had "their legs destroyed, as if the bomb came from a piece of luggage" on the floor.
Belgian media published a security camera picture showing three young men pushing trolleys laden with luggage at the airport and reported that police suspected them of being the attackers. According to the reports, two of the men are suspected of having blown themselves up while police are hunting the third.
Belgium has been in the spotlight since militants living there helped carry out coordinated attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on November 13.
The March 22 blasts came four days after Salah Abdeslam, the chief surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, was captured following after a shootout in Brussels. Belgian security forces had been on alert for any reprisal action.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, and Michel said there was no immediate evidence so far linking Abdeslam to them.
Public broadcaster VRT reported that 14 people were killed and 81 wounded at the airport, while authorities earlier put the death toll there at 11.
One witness said the blasts sparked panic as parts of the building collapsed onto travelers.
"When I reached the arrivals hall downstairs, an entire side with glass panes collapsed, downstairs where the taxis are," he told Belgian television channel RTBF. "It was complete chaos, some women were falling to the ground and crying. It was hell."
Another witness, Zach Mouzoun, told France's BFM television that the second explosion brought down ceilings and "there was blood everywhere."
A doctor who treated 11 of the victims at the Gasthuisberg hospital in Leuven was quoted by Flemish-language broadcaster VTM as saying their wounds suggested at least one of the bombs contained nails.
The Belga news agency reported that the assailants fired shots and shouted words in Arabic before the explosions.
Passengers were led onto the tarmac and the Belgian crisis center urged people not to approach the airport.
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Another explosion then struck the Maalbeek metro station, close to the EU institutions, during the morning rush hour.
Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur said at least 20 people died in the blast and 106 others were wounded, including 17 people with critical injuries.
A survivor fought tears as she told RTBF television about her ordeal.
"There was a big flash of light and the whole carriage exploded, the windows came down on us," she said. "Everyone threw themselves on the ground."
Brussels resident Joe Cook, who arrived at the station shortly after the blast, told RFE/RL that he saw commuters "in various states of shock."
"Some were stumbling, some were lying down, some were being tended to by passersby and other folk," he said.
Television footage showed black smoke billowing from the station entrance. Witnesses said the station was packed with commuters when the explosions took place.
EU Budget Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, who also handles employee and security issues, wrote on Twitter that EU institutions were working together to ensure the security of their staff and urged all EU personnel to "stay home or inside buildings."
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The new attacks sparked outrage and an outpouring of solidarity from world leaders.
French President Francois Hollande said "the whole of Europe has been hit," urging the continent to take "vital steps in the face of the seriousness of the threat.”
"We are at war," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after a crisis meeting called by Hollande. "We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war."
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the blasts were an "attack against democratic Europe."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the "despicable attacks" should be met with "determination toward the terrorists."
Obama, who was visiting Cuba, said the United States stands "in solidarity" with Belgium.
He pledged that Washington will do "whatever is necessary" to help Belgium bring the perpetrators to justice, adding that the attacks are another reminder that "the world must unite" against the "scourge of terrorism."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin "strongly condemned these barbaric crimes."
However, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that what she claimed were the West’s "double standards" toward terrorists have led to terrorist attacks in Europe.
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EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, tearing up at a joint news conference withJordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman, said it was a "very sad day" for Europe.
She said it was clear the blasts were attacks that resulted from “radicalisation,” and urged leaders in Europe and the Middle East to work together to tackle the problem.
"We are united in not only suffering... but also reacting to these acts and preventing radicalisation and violence together,” she said.
The French, British, and Polish governments convened emergency meetings.
Airports across Europe have tightened security.
France, which remains in a state of emergency after the November 13 attacks, has also reinforced security on its border with Belgium.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, RTBF, and the BBC