As Belgians watched police officers drag away Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam on Friday, they felt reassured — surely a dark chapter had closed.
On Tuesday morning local time, the illusion of safety was shattered.
The cosmopolitan capital Brussels, which serves as the political hub of the European Union, was rocked by two explosions at Zaventem Airport, the international air terminal on the outskirts of the city. An hour and a half later, it suffered another blast at a metro train station.
By mid-morning on Tuesday, the usually busy streets of Brussels were abandoned, as authorities closed all public transport for fear of more attacks.
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Speaking to The New Daily from Brussels, Flanders Today editor-in-chief Lisa Bradshaw said the damaged parts of the capital looked like a war zone, while a great hush descended on unaffected areas.
“It is an extremely busy place, not eerily quiet like it is now … there is panic in the streets where there are a lot of emergency vehicles, police officers,” she said.
“Usually there are people zipping in and out of metros, it is what you would expect in the political capital of Europe.
“Now it just looks a bit like a war zone.”
The death toll is 31, with more than 200 injured. Some survivors teold harrowing stories of missing the blasts in the metro station by minutes, arriving to a bloody scene.
Images and video of the airport showed windows blasted from their frames, and smoke billowing from the roof of the terminal.
Ms Bradshaw said the areas of the blasts, and several blocks around them, have been cordoned off by police and people asked to avoid travel.
The fatalities were unexpected, she said, coming just four days after Abdeslam’s arrest in Molenbeek. But the recent arrest forced the suspicion that “this wasn’t a coincidence”.
“Even though he was arrested, that felt like it had come to an end for Brussels — they didn’t raise the terror alert which was at three,” she said.
“Something like this is always unexpected but I think people were more feeling a sense of: ‘this is over now’, now it feels like it has just started all over again.”
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Australian counter-terror expert Greg Barton said it was probably no coincidence the alleged Paris plotter was arrested only four days ago.
“This would almost certainly be an Islamic State network, or cell, connected with Salah Abdeslam’s arrest a few days ago,” he told The New Daily.
“French police were saying what happened in Paris in November was a lot larger than what was expected, so that is the worry — that this might not be the end of the threat.
“It means that there is an extraordinary level of threat. It is really not something that we have seen since 9/11.”
Despite the panic, strangers came together to help those stranded in the city after the shutdown of public transport.
Taxis offered free rides and social media was used to find people in need, Ms Bradshaw said. Belgians were brave, if scarred.
“I think you can say that it’s the first time the people of Brussels have ever felt quite this threatened, that the threat has been so close,” she says.
“Terrorists hiding out in your neighbourhood is one thing, blowing you up at the metro is quite another.
“I think Brussels has lost a bit of its innocence today.”
See a video of the a Brussels metro train just after the explosion below:
This was the scene a short while ago, between the Arts-Lois and Maelbeek metro stations in Brussels. pic.twitter.com/aTZjqsF7Gt
— Evan Lamos (@evanlamos) March 22, 2016