23 killed as terror strikes Brussels (Fifth Lead)

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Brussels, March 22 (IANS) At least 23 people were killed as two deadly explosions rocked the Zaventem airport and another the main metro station here on Tuesday, four days after the arrest of the Paris terror attack suspect in the Belgian capital.

In what looked like a coordinated terror strike, a suicide bomber was apparently involved in the airport carnage where two quick explosions just after 8 a.m. left a part of the departure hall looking like a war zone. At least 13 people were killed and over 30 injured, Belgian media said.

Even as Belgium raised its terror alert to the maximum, a third equally powerful blast occurred — at the Maalbeek Metro station near the European Union building killing at least 10 people.

An Indian woman crew member of Jet Airways, which had just landed at Brussels, was injured and rushed to a hospital, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted. The plane had taken off from Delhi.

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It was not immediately clear how the crew member got wounded. An hour earlier, another Jet plane had landed — from Mumbai.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel appealed to people to “avoid any movement”. The airport was hurriedly evacuated and both the airport and Metro station were shut down.

Belga news agency reported that shots were fired and shouts in Arabic were heard before the two blasts, BBC said.

People were seen coming out of the airport building with blood on their faces.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “News from Brussels is disturbing. The attacks are condemnable. Condolences to the families of the deceased. May those injured recover quickly.”

Initial reports said the blasts were centred at the American Airlines check-in desk. The false ceiling in that building came crashing down while all the glass windows, furniture and machinery were shattered.

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A later report said one explosion occurred at the departure area, where public access was easy, and another at the runway.

BBC and most media outlets said several people were killed at the airport. Belgian broadcaster RTBF quoted hospital sources to say that 10 people had been killed and 30 injured. Daily Mail of London put the death toll at 13.

Pictures showed the terminal windows blown out from the force of the explosion and plumes of smoke rising high into the sky. Video also showed terrified passengers running for their lives out of the terminal.

Sky News Middle East correspondent Alex Rossi, who was at the airport, told the channel: “I could feel the building move.”

The incident came as the Belgian capital was on a state of high alert following the arrest of Paris terror attack suspect Salah Abdeslam in the city last week.

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On Monday, Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the country was braced for a possible revenge attack following the capture of the 26-year-old Abdeslam.

CNN quoted a tourist, Anthony Barrett, as saying that he heard the explosions from his hotel across the terminal building. “When I opened the curtains and looked out, I could see people fleeing,” he told CNN.

Barrett said he saw 19 or 20 stretchers carrying people. Luggage trolleys were also used to transport the wounded. “It is clearly a very serious incident.”

The Brussels airport, which was originally built in 1944 and has three runways, said there were two explosions at the building and everyone was asked to leave.

France is seeking Abdeslam’s extradition so he can stand trial for his alleged role in the November 13 rampage of gunfire and suicide bombings which killed 130 people in Paris.

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