The Islamic State has taken responsibility for twin blasts that hit Zaventem airport in Brussels, followed by another explosion an hour later at Maelbeek metro station.
The statement issued by Amaq News Agency, an auxiliary of the Islamic State, even included a dateline indicating the location of the writer: Brussels.
“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 center of the Belgian capital Brussels, a country participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State,” said the statement.
“Islamic State fighters opened fire inside Zaventem Airport, before several of them detonated their explosive belts, as a martyrdom bomber detonated his belt in the Maalbeek metro station. The attack resulted in more than 230 dead and wounded.”
The death toll was as high as 34, according to Belgian media reports, with many more injured.
Soon after the Amaq report, ISIS issued another official statement in French and Arabic noting “a secret cell of the soldiers of the Caliphate” targeted “places chosen with precision” in Brussels.
ISIS promised the “Crusader states” even more “dark days in response to their aggression against our state. And what awaits you will be harder and more bitter, with the permission of Allah.”
Separately, in a message to ISIS supporters in Belgium, a tech team from the terror group warned “brothers in Belgium” to take care to avoid detection and use encryption if being on the Internet is necessary.
“Stay away from social media websites, don’t share any information with your brothers right now,” the message said. “…Try to change your location as soon as possible and don’t tell anyone about your location” as authorities “will work all day and night to catch any jihadi in Belgium.”
“So be ready to act,” the communique advised.
In remarks while visiting Havana today, President Obama said “the thoughts and the prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium, and we stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people.”
“We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally, Belgium, in bringing to justice those who are responsible. And this is yet another reminder that the world must unite. We must be together, regardless of nationality or race or faith in fighting against the scourge of terrorism,” Obama said.
“We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world.”
The White House said Obama called Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel to offer condolences and assistance.
Secretary of State John Kerry called his counterpart, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, to express the same.
The U.S. Embassy in Brussels warned American citizens in the country that the threat level in there is 4, indicating “serious and imminent attack.”
Four days ago, the Embassy issued a message to citizens about the anti-terror raid in the Brussels suburb/commune of Molenbeek in which Paris terror suspect Salah Abdelsalam was captured. “We advise U.S. citizens to stay away from this and any other police action that may occur in the near future,” the Embassy said March 18. “There is no known threat to U.S. citizens or facilities.”
Today, the Embassy advised Americans to avoid all public transportation and “take the appropriate steps to bolster your personal security.” Many Belgians were offering shelter to stranded tourists using the Twitter hashtag #OpenDoor or #PorteOuverte.
“Today’s abhorrent attacks in Brussels are an assault against the Belgian people and the very heart of Europe. Our thoughts are with all those in Brussels, including the injured and the loved ones of those who were killed, and with the first responders and security personnel who are working tirelessly to keep Brussels safe,” Kerry said in a statement.
“The U.S. Embassy in Brussels is making every effort to account for the welfare of American citizens in the city, and in the days ahead we stand ready to provide whatever support the Belgian Government may require… Attacks like these only deepen our shared resolve to defeat terrorism around the world.”
Belgian authorities released a photo of three suspects at Zaventem airport and asked for help in identifying the men. The Amaq statement did not identify the attackers.