Belgian security forces have identified the man who set off an explosion at one of Brussels’ busiest train stations before he was shot and killed, in the latest attack to hit Europe, authorities said yesterday.
Belgian Minister of the Interior Jan Jambon said the attack on Tuesday evening could have been much worse because the “big explosion did not happen,” adding more details about the device would be released.
Witnesses said the suspect shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) before setting off the blast, which triggered a small, but intense fireball in Central Station’s underground hall.
Photo: AP / Remy Bonnaffe
“The terrorist’s identity is known. We have been able to identify him,” Jambon told RTBF radio and television without giving further details.
Jambon said that police had carried out searches once the attacker’s identity was known.
There were no other casualties apart from the suspect, who was confirmed dead by prosecutors hours after the attack.
Crying rail passengers fled the station after the explosion, with memories still fresh of last year’s metro and airport suicide attacks in the city which hosts the EU and NATO headquarters.
The busy Central Station in the heart of Brussels, which sits just beside the Grand Place, one of the city’s main tourist attractions, reopened at about 8am yesterday, railway authorities said.
“This is considered as a terrorist attack,” federal prosecutors’ office spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt said at a news conference outside the station late on Tuesday.
The blast came a day after a man mowed down Muslims near a mosque in London and a suspected militant on a terror watchlist rammed a car laden with weapons into a police vehicle in Paris.
Brussels has been on high alert since suicide bombers struck Zavantem Airport and the Maalbeek metro station near the EU quarter in March last year, killing 32 people and injuring hundreds.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were carried out by the same Brussels-based cell behind the November 2015 suicide bombings and shootings in Paris that left 130 dead.
Initial reports said the blast at Central Station could have come from an explosive belt, but subsequent accounts suggested it may have been a suitcase on a trolley.
Van der Sypt said that at about 6:30pm there was a “small explosion.”
“The suspect has been neutralized by the military that were present at the scene immediately after the explosion,” he said.
The incident happened well after rush hour, but hundreds of passengers were still evacuated from one of Belgium’s busiest stations.
The nearby Grand Place was also cleared.
“There were people crying; there were people shouting,” said Elisa Roux, a spokeswoman for the Belgian rail company SNCB. “There was a movement of panic.”
Hours after the incident the suspect’s body remained at the scene as bomb squads searched the area.
An Agence-France Presse journalist reported that a controlled explosion was heard several hours after the attack.
Social media images showed a fireball in a nearly empty underground hall.
“I went down to the mezzanine level, someone was shouting. Then he yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’ and he blew up a wheeled suitcase,” railway employee Nicolas van Herrewegen told reporters.
“I was behind a wall when it exploded. I went down and alerted my colleagues to evacuate everyone. He [the suspect] was still around, but after that we didn’t see him,” Van Herrewegen said. “It wasn’t exactly a big explosion, but the impact was pretty big. People were running away.”
He described the suspect as well built and tanned with short hair, wearing a white shirt and jeans.
“I saw that he had something on him because I could see wires emerging, so it may have been a suicide vest,” Van Herrewegen said.
The federal crisis center said the situation was “under control” about an hour after the explosion, but kept the nation’s terror alert at level 3, the second highest.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel hailed the “courage” of security forces.
Soldiers have been deployed at railway stations and landmark buildings since the Paris terror attacks, when a link to Brussels was first established.
The nation’s law enforcement agencies and intelligence services came under intense scrutiny amid claims that a series of leads were missed after the Paris attacks that could have led to the Brussels bombers.
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
A Malaysian student whose cellphone was stolen while he was sleeping has tracked down the culprit: a monkey who took photo and video selfies with the device before abandoning it. Zackrydz Rodzi, 20, on Wednesday said that his mobile phone was missing from his bedroom when he woke up on Saturday. He found the phone’s casing under his bed, but there was no sign of robbery in his house in Johor state. JUNGLE When his father saw a monkey the next day, he searched in the jungle behind his house. Using his brother’s cellphone to call his own device, he found it covered
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after