by Katie Daniels
Three explosions in Brussels on March 22 killed 31 people and wounded 300. A news agency affiliated with ISIS claimed responsibility, calling Belgium “a country participating in the coalition against the Islamic State.” The explosions in Brussels came just days after the police arrested the main surviving suspect in the attack in Paris last November that killed 130 people.
“What we feared has happened—we were hit by a blind attack,” said the prime minister, Charles Michel, at a news conference after the explosions.
The first two blasts occurred at 8 a.m. local time at Zaventem Airport. Two bombs exploded near the departure gates and killed 10 people. An hour later, an explosion at the Maelbeek subway station in central Brussels, just blocks away from EU headquarters, killed over 20 people.
An eyewitness described the chaos at the subway system after the bomb went off: “Parts of the ceiling fell down. There was a lot of water from pipes breaking. People who were there during the explosions said there were scenes of chaos. It took about 10 minutes for security personnel to arrive. There were mothers with children and old people who didn't know what to do.”
Authorities placed the city under lockdown, with public transportation shut down and tunnels closed to traffic. Brussels remained under a level 4 threat warning, which officials say means a “serious and imminent attack.”
The French President Francois Hollande commented on the attack, saying, “Terrorists struck Brussels, but it was Europe that was targeted—and all the world that is concerned.”
Later that week, top Belgian authorities admitted that they failed to communicate in the days leading up to the attack, obscuring potentially important information. The European Union also dealt with charges that they failed to share information among national police forces and intelligence services. Investigators say that three or four people played roles in both the Brussels and Paris attacks, and it is likely that the attacks are not over.
“There seems to be more and more evidence that there are links between French commandos who had a role in Paris and Belgians who targeted the airport and the Maelbeek metro station,” said Didier Leroy, a researcher of jihadist networks at the Belgian Royal Military Academy and Brussels University. “There are fingerprints, there are some specific phone calls on the night of the Paris attacks.”
The French and Belgian fighters are especially close because they came to Europe from the same countries. Nathalie Goulet, the vice-chairwoman of the French Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, speculated that investigators will find more connections between the terrorists. “I don’t believe in the lone wolf,” she said. “These people have the same training, the same national connection; they have long friendships and when they left for Syria they all went to the same place there because they are French speakers and that reinforced their connections and ability to work together.”