The Islamic State-linked Amaq news agency said Tuesday the terror group was claiming responsibility for the twin attacks on Brussels’s airport and metro in which at least 34 people were killed and dozens were wounded.
The statement said the attacks were carried out against Belgium for its participation in the US-led coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.
“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 center of the Belgian capital Brussels, a country participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State,” the Aamaq news agency said, according to a translation provided by AFP.
Later, the group itself issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attacks, and threatened “dark days ahead” for member countries of the coalition against IS.
“Soldiers of the caliphate… carried out an attack targeting the crusader state of Belgium, which is fighting Islam and its people,” the group said in a statement posted online. “We promise the nations of crusaders that are allied against the Islamic State that dark days lie ahead, in response to their aggression against our State… what awaits you will be harder and more bitter, with Allah’s permission.”
Local media was reporting a total of 34 dead, 14 in two bomb blasts in the departure terminal of the airport and 20 more in another explosion a short while later at the Maalbeek metro station. Dozens were injured in both incidents.
The public transport system in the city was shut down in the wake of the blasts, which authorities quickly categorized as terror attacks.
According to the Belgian VTM TV channel, police discovered an unexploded suicide vest at the Brussels airport. The report said a Kalashnikov assault rifle had also been located at the site.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, speaking on national television, described the attacks as “blind, violent and cowardly.”
Interior Minister Jan Jambon announced that Belgium’s terror threat had been raised from three to a maximum of four, and the country’s national security council was due to meet.
Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said authorities feared that suspects involved in the deadly attacks could still be at large.
“The inquiry is still ongoing… because we fear that people are still at large,” Reynders told RTBF television after a news briefing in the Belgian capital.
Brussels residents were told to “stay where you are,” while Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo urged people to avoid making calls to stop the city’s mobile networks getting saturated, and to communicate with online messages instead.
At Maalbeek, black smoke and clouds of dust billowed from the station entrance, about a hundred meters (yards) from the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
More than a dozen people were seen lying on the pavement outside with bloodied faces and were being treated by emergency services.
Footage from the airport showed smoke billowing from the site with hundreds of passengers fleeing damaged buildings. The interior of the building appeared to be severely damaged, with ceiling tiles littering the floor.
Initial reports suggested the explosions took place at the American Airlines check-in desk.
A Sky News reporter who was at the airport at the time of the blasts said that passengers had been evacuated to the tarmac.
Police instructed passengers to leave their hand luggage in the airport and leave the building immediately. Passengers were led onto the tarmac and the crisis center urged people not to come to the airport.
All flights to and from the airport were canceled following the attack. The Hebrew media said an El Al flight en route to Brussels was diverted midair.
The Sky News journalist at the airport said there had been a “very big explosion.”
“We felt the walls of the building rock… dust came down from the ceiling,” he said.
The blasts come four days after the dramatic arrest in Brussels on Friday of Saleh Abdeslam, prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks that killed 130 people in November.
After being on the run for four months, Abdeslam, 26, was shot in the leg and captured Friday along with a suspected accomplice in a massive Belgian police raid in Brussels. Three others were also detained, but two were released on Saturday.