EU officials on Tuesday (22 March) side-stepped questions from the media on whether European Union institutions were the likely targets of the attacks in Brussels.
Three apparently coordinated explosions at the city’s main airport and a metro station shook Brussels on Tuesday, killing more than 30 people and injuring at least 200.
The explosion at Maelbeek metro station – located in the EU business zone – raises the question whether the EU institutions, and their commuting employees, were a target.
Explosives went off in one of the metro trains approaching Maelbeek at 09.11 am, a few hundred metres from the Commission’s Charlemagne and Berlaymont buildings.
The explosion was 350 metres away from the main Council building which often hosts summits with EU heads of state.
The Commission’s DG Agriculture and Rural Development building is located on the same street as the Maalbeek station and the staff there was eventually evacuated.
Maelbeek metro station itself is the main destination for many officials and politicians coming to work at the European Parliament .
Rudi Vervoort of the Brussels Reginal Government said the attacks were of unprecedented scale in Belgium and had hit “strong symbols” of Brussels.
The Commission raised its security level to ‘orange’ from ‘yellow’ which means that no visitors are allowed to enter the buildings, entering and exiting buildings and parking lots will also be more restricted for staff and journalists.
#Brussels Currently "locked in" EuropeanParliament building. Pain&sadness mixed with apprehension.Streets in much of town empty.No transport
— Richard Corbett (@RCorbettMEP) March 22, 2016
The parliament was also – at least for some of the afternoon – in lockdown.
Belgium raised its terror threat to 4, the highest level, with Brussels being in lockdown. Staff working for the EU institutions were told to stay inside buildings or stay at home.
Margaritis Schinas, the Commission’s chief spokesperson, stonewalled questions during a press conference on the indications that EU staff were deliberately targeted.
“We continue to work calmly and effectively. We are here. We are in the building. We feel safe and we do our work. The handling of the security situation lies with the Belgian authorities,” Schinas responded.
One EU source repeated that now is not the time “to enter speculation.”
“Maelbeek… Yes, it is in the EU area, but so are other metro stations. The Belgians are in charge. They are leading the investigation and the Federal Prosecutor will be the one determining what this is,” the source said.
The Commission has spent the day trying to contact all its employees, but many are on holiday due to the Easter break.