Was Brussels’ metro blast targeting EU?

The Commission put the 28 EU flags on half-mast on Tuesday, 22 March 2016. [Henriette Jacobsen]

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 Tuesdaykilling 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.

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.

UKIP under fire for blaming Brussels attacks on 'lax' Schengen border system

Shortly after two explosions were confirmed at the Zaventem Airport in Brussels, the British far-right party UKIP used the incident to send a press release blaming the attacks on the Schengen passport-free travel zone and “lax border controls” in Europe.

One or two explosions were heard this morning around 08.00 am at Brussels Zaventem Airport, near the American Airlines check-in desk. Belgian prosecutors confirmed the Airport blast is a suicide attack. Shouts in Arabic were heard before the blast, according to witnesses.

Another explosion hit Maalbeek Metro station in the European district, not far from the European Commission’s flagship Berlaymont building at 09.11 am.

The death toll keeps rising as figures are updated by Belgian authorities: 14 dead and 81 injured at Brussels airport; 20 dead and 106 injured at Maalbeek Metro station.

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Brussels attacks - The aftermath

The aftermath of Tuesday's twin bombings at Brussels airport and on its metro. EURACTIV gives up to the minute updates on the latest developments and implications at European level.

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