A manhunt was under way last night for a terrorist suspect believed to be on the run after co-ordinated bomb attacks in Brussels killed at least 31 people and injured almost 200 others, many seriously.
Belgian police issued an image of the man who was one of three suspects captured on CCTV pushing a luggage trolley through Zaventem airport minutes before two bombs exploded. His two accomplices are believed to have died in the blasts in the airport check-in area at 8am local time yesterday, killing 11 people.
An hour later, an explosion struck the Maelbeek Metro station near the European Union headquarters, leaving 20 people dead. Terrified passengers were led through smoke-filled tunnels to safety.
A third device found at the airport was deactivated.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the atrocity that left the Belgian capital in lockdown, just months after Paris was hit by a series of deadly attacks.
The bombings were described as “blind, violent and cowardly” by the Belgian prime minister, Charles Michel.
“What we feared has happened,” he said. “In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity.”
He added that the attacks hit “the lives of people who were most likely travelling without a care in the world, going to work or to school – lives that have been broken by extremism.”
As Belgium raised its terrorism alert to the highest level, other European countries, including the UK, tightened security at airports and other transport hubs.
British police forces said they would be boosting numbers at “key locations”.
World leaders united to voice their support for Belgium. David Cameron branded the atrocities “appalling” and a spokesman said Britain was sending a team of specialist police officers to Brussels to assist with the investigation.
Downing Street also confirmed that two British nationals are believed to have been injured in the attacks.
Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said: “We are at war. In Europe, we have been subjected to acts of war for several months.”
François Hollande, the French president, said: “Terrorists struck Brussels but it was Europe that was targeted and it is all the world which is concerned by this.”
Everything was coming down. Glassware. It was chaos. It was unbelievable. It was the worst thingJef Versele
US president Barack Obama, speaking while on an official visit to Cuba, condemned the “outrageous attacks on innocent people”.
European security officials have been braced for a terrorist attack in recent days after reports that IS was actively preparing to strike.
Yesterday’s bombings came five days after Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris attacks last November, was arrested in Brussels.
Following his arrest, Abdeslam reportedly told the authorities that he had created a new terrorist network in the Belgian capital and was planning fresh attacks.
The first news of yesterday’s attacks came when the airport was rocked by a double blast at 7am UK time. One explosion happened close to an American Airlines desk, while the other was near a branch of Starbucks.
Jef Versele, a passenger from Ghent, said: “I was on my way to check in and two bombs went off, two explosions. I didn’t see anything. Everything was coming down. It was chaos. It was unbelievable.”
Mobile phone footage from inside the airport immediately after the blasts showed ceiling tiles strewn across the floor and suitcases abandoned. Dazed passengers and airport staff stumbled through the wreckage, some with clothes and shoes blown off by the force of the blast.
Zach Mouzoun, who landed at Brussels on a flight from Geneva about ten minutes before the bombs were detonated, said the explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with victims’ blood.
“It was atrocious,” he told Belgian television. “There was blood everywhere, injured people. We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene.”
Anthony Deloos, a worker for the baggage-handling company Swissport, was near the Starbucks where the second bomb exploded. “I jumped into a luggage chute to be safe,” he said.
The Metro explosion came an hour later, Brussels mayor Yvan Majeur said.
Commuter Alexandre Brans said: “The train was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion. It was panic, everywhere. There were a lot of people in the Metro.”
In the aftermath of the attacks, the army was deployed on the city’s streets and Brussels remained in lockdown. Staff at the EU headquarters, close to Maelbeek metro station, were advised to stay inside the building.
All flights to Brussels were diverted or cancelled and Zaventem airport will be closed today.
Officials conducting preliminary searches of the airport found two Kalashnikovs and an unexploded bomb belt.
Last night a series of police raids were carried out across Belgium.
Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said: “A photo of three suspects was taken at Brussels airport. Two of them have probably committed a suicide attack, the third – dressed in a white jacket and wearing a hat – is actively sought.”
He added: “Due to the violence of the attacks, this investigation is particularly difficult. Federal magistrates supported by magistrates from our organisation are present in various strategic points.
“Several explosions have been heard. They are due to bomb squad activity upon the discovery that the suspects might have left explosives behind.”
• Those concerned for family or friends can call Belgian telephone number 0032 2753 7300 or the Foreign Office on +44 (0) 207 008 0000