Belgium hunts for killers as 34 die in ISIS bomb attacks
• Buhari, Obama others express concern
• Nigeria assures of security at airports as U.S. diverts flights
Belgian officials yesterday confirmed that 34 people were killed and over 170 others wounded in the coordinated bomb attacks at the Zaventem Airport and the Maelbeek Metro Station in Brussels. The terrorist group, Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility.
Local media reported that the police were engaged in an active manhunt for some of the suspects of the attack. Belgium has now raised its terrorism threat to its highest level. The attacks came four days after Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive in the Paris attacks, was seized in Brussels.
World leaders, among them President Muhammadu Buhari and United States President Barak Obama have joined their counterparts from across the globe to condemn the attacks.
ISIS’ statement claiming responsibility for the multiple attacks reads: “Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the centre of the Belgian capital Brussels, a country participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State.
Islamic State fighters opened fire inside Zaventem Airport, before several of them detonated their explosive belts, as a martyrdom bomber detonated his explosive belt in the Maalbeek metro station. The attacks resulted in more than 230 dead and wounded.”
As the country is struggling to come to grips with the attack, local media have made appeals to people living near Zaventem airport to bring blankets, water, food and other essential medical supplies to a local gym being used as a temporary shelter.
President Buhari, in a statement by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, Buhari stressed that the twin attacks early yesterday had reinforced the need for greater international cooperation against terrorism and commiserated with Prime Minister Charles Michel and Belgians over the loss of over 30 lives in the attacks.
“The president assured the premier and the people of Belgium that having suffered the horror and anguish of incessant terrorist attacks over several years, Nigeria stands in full solidarity with them on this day of national pain and trauma.
Buhari believed that the appalling attack on Brussels reinforces the need for greater international cooperation to effectively confront and destroy global terrorism and its perpetrators.
‘‘The president assures the global community that under his leadership, Nigeria would continue to work with other countries of the world to ensure that terrorism never triumphs over free, peaceful and law-abiding nations and people of the world.”
Also lending his voice to the condemnation of the attack, former President Goodluck Jonathan on his twitter handle yesterday wrote, “Terror is condemnable wherever it occurs and I condemn it whether it occurs in Nigeria or Belgium. I call for global unity to end this menace”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has assured Nigerians and the international community that adequate security measures have been put in place to prevent terror attacks at airports across the country.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) gave the assurance yesterday in separate interviews with The Guardian while responding to a question on the level of security at the country’s airports on the heels of yesterday’s bombings in Brussels.
The spokespersons for the two agencies, Sam Adurogboye (NCAA) and Yakubu Dati of FAAN, said the government was not unaware of the sad incidents like this and the recent one that happened in Cote d’Ivoire and had ensured that adequate security facilities were in place at all airports across the country.
Nigeria gave the security assurance amidst reports that U.S. airlines including Delta, United and American yesterday re-routed and canceled flights following the two deadly blasts that shut down the Brussels Airport at Zaventem.
Delta Air Lines said its flight DL42 from New York to Brussels was diverted to Amsterdam. Another flight, DL80 from Atlanta, had landed safely at the Zaventem airport and was parked remotely while the airline’s local staff helped passengers exit safely.
United Airlines, which had two flights due in Brussels yesterday morning, said one from Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport arrived at 7:01 a.m. local time and passengers exited normally.
The other, flight 999 from Newark Liberty International Airport in the New York area, was re-routed to a location that the airline did not identify.
President Obama on a visit to Cuba said: “We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally, Belgium in bringing to justice those who are responsible for Tuesday’s attacks.”
Russian President, Vladimir Putin, strongly condemned the explosions in Brussels and assured the Belgian people of solidarity in times of difficulty.
Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Putin had already sent and expressed condolences to Belgium in connection with the death of civilians in a series of explosions in Brussels.
Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, also described the blasts as an attack against European democracy. He said in a statement: “We will never accept that terrorists attack our open societies.”
Danish Prime Minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, also denounced the explosions as a “despicable attack,’’ saying that his thoughts were with the victims and their families.
U.S. Republican party front-runner, Donald Trump, reacted to the blasts, characteristically saying he would close the U.S. border if elected president in November to stem the entry of would-be terrorists into the country.
“I would close up our borders… We are lax and we are foolish,” he told Fox News.Similarly, the United Kingdom’s Ukip Party’s defence spokesperson, Mike Hooken, blamed the success of the attack on the freedom of movement within the European Union (EU).
He said: “This horrific act of terrorism shows that Schengen free movement and lax border controls are a threat to our security.”
The Ukip is opposed to greater regional alliances in the EU.Some of the casualties have been identified. The Slovenian foreign minister, Karl Erjavec, told journalists that one of his country’s diplomats was among the wounded.
He said the unnamed diplomat was in hospital and his life was not in danger.Security has been stepped up at Gatwick and Heathrow airports and the UK Foreign Office has advised British nationals to avoid crowded areas in Belgium even as Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the Cobra Response Committee yesterday.
France has stepped up security, and the cabinet has held an emergency meeting.“The terrorists have struck Belgium but it is Europe that was targeted. And it is the whole world that is concerned with this,” said French President Francois Hollande.