At least 34 people were killed and 170 injured after terrorists carried out coordinated bomb attacks on the main airport and the Metro system in Brussels.
The attacks were condemned as “blind, violent and cowardly” by Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and came after the arrest in the city last week of terror mastermind Salah Abdeslam, who plotted November’s Paris atrocity from the notorious Molenbeek suburb of Brussels.
Shortly after initial reports of the attacks, the Gibraltar Government was able to confirm that all staff in its Brussels office, which is close to the location of one of the attacks, were safe and accounted for.
The attacks were condemned by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“This is another appalling and shocking attack on Europe, on our freedom and our liberty,” he said.
“The Government empathises strongly with the people of Belgium who are having to go through this dreadful incident today.”
Sir Graham Watson, who heads the Gibraltar office in Brussels, tweeted just shortly after the attacks.
Ghastly scene at Brussels airport this morning. My wife Rita flew out half an hour before the bombs exploded. I mourn for the less fortunate
— Sir Graham Watson (@sirgrahamwatson) March 22, 2016
In Gibraltar, the Opposition GSD said it was shocked and saddened with the events in Brussels. “Our sympathies go out to those who have been affected by these horrific acts and to the people of Belgium with whom we stand united,” said Opposition leader Daniel Feetham.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their friends and families, emergency services, Prime Minister Charles Michel and his Cabinet.”
“We also wish to extend our solidarity to those representing Gibraltar in our Brussels office for whom this will be a very difficult time.”
Public transport in Brussels was shut down and authorities appealed to citizens not to use overloaded telephone networks. Extra troops were sent into the city and the Belgian Crisis Centre, clearly wary of a further incident, appealed to the population: “Stay where you are”.
The first attacks occurred in the airport, according to local media reports.
A witness said he heard shouts in Arabic and shots shortly before two blasts struck a packed airport departure lounge at Brussels airport. The federal prosecutor said one of the explosions was probably triggered by a suicide bomber.
Video showed devastation in the hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor. Some passengers emerged from the terminal with blood spattered over their clothes. Smoke rose from the building through shattered windows and passengers fled down a slipway, some still hauling their bags.
The blast in the metro station hit a train as it left Maelbeek station, close to European Union institutions and five minutes from Gibraltar House in Brussels.
The VRT public broadcaster in Brussels carried a photograph of a metro carriage at a platform with doors and windows completely blown out, its structure deformed and interior mangled and charred.
Responding to the attacks, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said: “We are at war. In Europe we have been subjected to acts of war for several months.”
Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders warned: “We fear that people are still at large.”
Prime Minister David Cameron hit out at “inappropriate” attempts to link the terror attacks to the debate on Britain’s future in the EU, adding that the countries of Europe need to “stand together against these appalling terrorists and make sure they can never win.”