2016-03-22 09:35:00

Brussels: explosions at airport, underground

Vatican Radio) At least 13 people are dead and dozens of others are reported injured after a terror attack on Brussels airport, despite many security forces at what is one of Europe's most protected airports and an ongoing terror investigation, government and police officials say. Witnesses reported early Tuesday at least two explosions at the entrance hall of the airport which is also used by European Union top officials as Brussels hosts the EU and NATO military alliance. Ambulances rushed to the scene while Brussels Airport was evacuated and flights were directed to other airports.

Another explosion was heard at Maelbeek metro station in Brussels, close to the EU institutions, Belgian broadcaster RTBF said, shortly after the explosions that ripped through the departure hall at Brussels airport.

News of the attacks came after authorities appealed to the public to help find a man known to have traveled with key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was captured last week in Brussels, amid fears of more terror violence in Europe. 

Click below to hear the report from correspondent Stefan Bos

Belgian federal prosecutors said 24-year-old Najim Laachraoui was believed to have traveled to Hungary with top suspect Salah Abdeslam before the deadly Paris attacks and has been traced to safe houses under a false name. Investigators claim that Laachraoui was checked by guards at the Austria-Hungary border on September 9 while driving in a Mercedes car with Abdeslam and one other person.

Laachraoui, whose nationality wasn't disclosed, had reportedly traveled to Syria in February 2013.

It wasn't clear when he returned to Europe. However the fact that he and possible other terror suspects have been in Hungary has been used by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to defend his anti-migration policies and fences along the borders with Serbia and Croatia. 


Critics say however that most terror suspects grew up in countries such as Belgium or France long before the emergence of Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War Two.     

Using a false identity, Laachraoui also rented a house under the name of Soufiane Kayal in the Belgian town of Auvelais. Prosecutors say that was allegedly used as a safe house, where prosecutors said traces of his DNA were found. The house was searched November 26.

The search for Laachraoui comes amid concerns over possible new terror attacks in Europe such as those in Paris that killed 130 people and several terrorists for which the Islamic State group claimed responsibility. As part of the investigation, Belgium is under pressure to extradite key suspect Abdeslam, explained French prosecutor  Francois Molins.

“The French magistrates have signed an arrest warrant which was issued as a European arrest warrant by the Paris prosecutor," Molins said after meeting his Belgian colleague. He added "It is now up to the Belgian authorities – and them alone – to decide. There is a great expectation on the side of the French judicial authorities and the victims that Salah Abdeslam is handed over to explain himself before French judges."  


Yet, Belgian federal prosecutor, Frederic Van Leeuw, said it was too early to comment on Abdeslam’s exact role in November’s Paris attacks despite earlier revelations made by French investigators that he abandoned plans to be a suicide bomber at the last moment. "It is clear that Mr. Abdeslam has been advised to give us some explanation and I hope that will shed new light on this case and perhaps clear up a few things," he said.

"It is too early to confirm the role of each suspect. We have quite a few pieces of the puzzle and recently several pieces have fallen into place. But we are a long way from finishing the puzzle.”

Abdeslam, who was captured in Brussels after a four-month manhunt, faces a court hearing on Wednesday. His lawyer has already warned that his client will fight a request for his extradition to France.

In addition to the Paris attacks investigation, Belgian anti-terrorism prosecutors say they are working non-stop on hundreds of other cases - 325 cases last year and nearly 60 new cases so far this year. The French prosecution says its team has 244 anti-terror cases in progress regarding 772 individuals either charged or sought.

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