brussels attacks subway bruxelles.jpg
Photograph: EPA/FRANCESCO CALLEDDA

A series of terrorist attacks in the Belgian capital left at least 30 people dead and 230 injured on Tuesday, with the Islamic State extremist group claiming responsibility for the explosions at a subway station and Brussels' international airport.

The Sunni jihadist organization, which controls swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, said a group of its "soldiers" had attacked "carefully selected targets" in "crusader Belgium, which has not stopped attacking Islam and its people."

Belgium is part of the US-led coalition that has carried out airstrikes against Islamic State.

The group threatened further attacks on members of the coalition in a statement posted on social media by supporters and described by the US-based monitoring group SITE Intel as a "formal communique." It said that "what is coming will be harsher and bitterer."

But top Belgian officials appeared unfazed.

"I want to tell ... those who have chosen to be barbaric enemies of liberties, of democracy, of fundamental values that we will stay united, that we will be fully mobilized ... with a full determination to act to protect our liberties, our ways of living," Prime Minister Charles Michel told journalists in Brussels.

"We will continue to respond together with firmness, with calm and dignity," King Philippe added in a televised address to the nation.

Belgian prosecutors said they think two men managed to carry out a suicide bombing, while a third suspect caught on video surveillance is being sought with the public's help.

The first attack, in which two consecutive explosions occurred in the airport's departure hall around 8 am (0700 GMT), left at least 10 people dead and some 100 people injured, according to an initial estimate by Belgium's crisis centre.

The second explosion at the Maelbeek metro station, which went off at around 9:15 am in a subway train stopped in the station, left at least 20 people dead and some 130 injured, the crisis centre said.

The US State Department said it cannot confirm Islamic State's claim of responsibility but noted that the group is "capable of this sort of depravity." US President Barack Obama has offered Belgium support in its investigation.

People had already started laying flowers in the centre of the Belgian capital on Tuesday as the northern European country began three days of national mourning.

In the hunt for the perpetrators, police found an explosive device containing nails, chemical substances and an Islamic State flag during a raid in the Brussels neighbourhood of Schaerbeek, federal prosecutors said Tuesday evening, without providing further details.

Police spent much of the day searching for weapons and suspects in the sprawling airport building, located about 15 kilometres from the Brussels centre.

There were a total of three bombs used during the airport attack, but one did not explode, the governor of the Flemish Brabant province, Lodewijk De Witte, was quoted by the Belga news agency as saying. The bombs contained nails, an official from a hospital treating some of the victims told Belga.

Around 1,000 people were present in the airport hall during the attack, the news agency reported. Six police officers were among those injured.

Access to the airport was blocked after the attack, but pictures posted on social media showed a blown-out window front, debris that appeared to come from a collapsed roof and bloodied people inside and outside the airport.

The crisis centre said there would be no incoming or outgoing flights until at least noon on Wednesday, while the chief executive of the airport said it would remain closed until Thursday.

The public transport network in Brussels was also shut down for most of Tuesday, although it was coming back online by the evening. Train traffic to and from the Belgian capital was resuming too. Schools were expected to be open on Wednesday.

Military reinforcements have been deployed and controls are being carried out at Belgium's borders, Michel said.

The country raised its threat alert level to 4, indicating a "serious and imminent" threat. The EU institutions and the NATO military alliance, which are both headquartered in Brussels, also increased their threat levels.

Belgium had already been on high alert since the arrest in Brussels last week of Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris terrorist attacks. Federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said it was too early to establish a link between the attacks in Brussels and Paris.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is expected in Brussels on Wednesday for a long-planned visit to the European Commission.

The president of the EU's executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that the attacks "touch us but do not scare us." The commission's main building is less than 500 metres from the Maelbeek station.

Related stories

Latest news

Trump-style rhetoric is making world more dangerous, Amnesty says

Divisive and "poisonous" language used by politicians such as US President Donald Trump is putting vulnerable populations at risk and making the whole world a more dangerous place, Amnesty International charged on Wednesday.

Canada soon to begin resettling Iraqi refugees, most of them Yezidis

Canada will resettle 1,200 survivors of the Islamic State campaign to target religious minorities in northern Iraq, Canadian officials announced Tuesday. 

Breitbart editor resigns after release of paedophilia comments

Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial editor at the far-right Breitbart news website, resigned Tuesday after the emergence of recordings in which he appears to defend sexual relationships between young boys and older men.

Trump administration opens door for mass deportations

The US Department of Homeland Security laid the groundwork Tuesday for mass deportations of immigrants living illegally in the United States under an executive order by President Donald Trump last month.

Brexit bill: House of Lords says public can change mind on leaving EU

The British public should be able to change their minds on Brexit - just as Prime Minister Theresa May did, the upper chamber of parliament heard Tuesday during a marathon debate on legislation to kick off EU negotiations.

Italian lawmakers, rights activists clash over gay sex club scandal

Gay rights activists and conservative politicians clashed Tuesday after the chief of Italy's anti-discrimination office quit over allegations that money had been authorized for gay sex clubs.

EU countries agree new rules to avoid tax evasion

European Union finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday reached a political agreement on new rules to ensure that multinational corporations do not declare profits in the countries where they pay the least tax but in the countries where they generate it.

Trump condemns "horrible, painful" anti-Jewish incidents

US President Donald Trump condemned a recent spate of threats against Jewish community targets across the United States, during a visit Tuesday to the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

FinMin expects Croatia to exit Excessive Deficit Procedure this spring

Finance Minister Zdravko Maric said on Tuesday Croatia could exit the Excessive Deficit Procedure this spring and that it was showing progress in correcting macroeconomic imbalances.

Austria seeks to create jobs, but new EU immigrants need not apply

Austria plans to create 160,000 jobs in the next three years by subsidizing companies, but the project has raised concerns because it effectively excludes people who recently immigrated from other EU countries.

Juncker: Not good for W. Balkans that some in Washington want to water down EU

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday it was not good for Western Balkan countries that some people in the new US administration gave the impression of being against the European Union because those countries needed the prospects of EU membership.

Citizens invited to help create Croatian version of Monopoly

A project to create a Croatian edition of Monopoly, in which citizens can participate by submitting proposals and which could become a souvenir for tourists, was presented at a press conference on Tuesday.

German state approves full-face veil ban

Legislation that bans face veils in select public spaces and situations was agreed by the government of the southeastern German state of Bavaria on Tuesday.

Indian restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok named Asia's best for third year

Bangkok's Indian eatery Gaggan on Tuesday was named the best restaurant in Asia for the third consecutive year by Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.

HGK: 16 Croatian companies to exhibit at IDEX defence exhibition

Sixteen Croatian companies will exhibit their products at the 13th IDEX 2017 defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi, to be held on February 19-23.