Two loud explosions rocked the main airport terminal in Brussels, Belgium on Tuesday, a day after authorities said a new suspect in the Nov. 13, 2015 Paris terror attacks — possibly the bomb-maker — was likely loose in the city.
Belgium’s public broadcaster RTBF said at least one suicide bomber was behind the explosions at the airport. Police said at least 13 people were killed and dozens injured in the blasts, which witnesses said hit the departure hall at Brussels Airport.
Some witnesses told Sky News the blasts struck near the American Airlines desk in the departures hall. Belgian media reported that gunshots were heard, and shouting in Arabic, before the explosions. CBS News could not independently verify those reports.
About an hour after the explosions at the airport, there was a blast at the Maelbeek Metro station in central Brussels, very near the U.S. Embassy and European Union headquarters. The Metro system was shut down. Emergency workers could be seen treating several injured people outside the metro station at Maelbeek, and there were reports of as many as eight fatalities there. Belgian officials did not immediately confirm those casualties.
“The Metro was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion,” Alexandre Brans, 32, told the AP as he wiped blood off his face. “It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the Metro.”
All flights in and out of Brussels Airport were cancelled, and all public transport in the Belgian capital was also shutdown. Eurostar trains in and out of Brussels from the rest of Europe were also cancelled Tuesday.
Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon raised the nation’s terror alert to its maximum level in the wake of explosions at the airport, indicating authorities believed a terrorist attack to be imminent.
“It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed,” traveller Zach Mouzoun, who flew in from Geneva just minutes before the first explosion at the airport, told The Associated Press. “There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere… We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene.”
Police arrested one of the prime suspects in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, on Friday in the now-notorious Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. On Monday, officials said they were still searching another man, identified as Najim Laachraoui — who may have been group’s bomb-maker.
CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reported that, according to Belgian authorities, Laachraoui’s DNA was found on the explosives used in the gun and suicide attacks in Paris. The carnage in Paris is believed to have been planned largely in Brussels, where a handful of the attackers lived or had links. That attack was blamed on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but the attackers were “home-grown” militants, from Europe.
His whereabouts are unknown, and prosecutors admitted Monday they weren’t close to solving the puzzle.
Video and photos from Brussels Airport, which is located in Zaventem, a suburb just northeast of the capital, showed windows of the main terminal blown out with smoke rising from the shattered panes.
Inside, CBS News partner network Sky News showed live images of passengers being herded by airport staff toward exits away from the scene of the explosions. The mood seemed tense but orderly and mostly calm. Sky’s Alex Rossi, who was in the terminal at the time of the blasts at about 8 a.m local time (3 a.m. Eastern), said they caused the building to shake.
Video from the main departures hall, taken on cell phone by a passenger, showed dozens of ceiling tiles and other debris on the floor.
Passengers were being told by airport officials to leave their hand luggage on the floor and to continue toward airport exits. Outside, passengers gathered on the tarmac and were guided onto buses to be transported to a crisis center.
In a statement, American Airlines said it was aware of the incident and that “all of our employees and contractors are accounted for with no reported injuries.”
The apparent terrorist attacks in Brussels quickly sent shockwaves around Europe, with the French halting trains in and out of Paris’ main Gare du Norde station, and British authorities stepping up security around public transport hubs.
A French newspaper, La Liberation, reported that the border between France and Belgium had been shut, and capitals across Europe announced a heightened security posture.
Across the Atlanic in Washington D.C., a Metro spokesman told CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave that while there were no specific or credible threats against the network, it was standard procedure to increase security and visibility of police following an attack like Brussels, so commuters in the U.S. capital should expect to see a higher level of visibility from police around the transit system.
Police in New York City were also ramping-up visibility and patrols.