The State Department said it still can’t substantiate whether missing Americans in Brussels were killed in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks.
At least four Americans, whose families told media they’re missing, were known to be at the airport at the time explosions went off near the American Airlines check-in counter and near a Starbucks.
Justin Shults, 30, from Gatlinburg, Tenn., and his wife, Stephanie, 29, from Lexington, Ky., moved to Brussels in 2014. They had just waved goodbye to Stephanie’s mother, who was injured in the bombings, as she moved toward the security checkpoint.
Siblings Sascha and Alexander Pinczowski, of New York, were coming home from Brussels and were on the phone with a relative when the blasts went off and the line went dead.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters today that the Belgians “are still in the process of identifying the deceased.”
“We are centralizing all information we have on affected U.S. citizens from all sources — that includes information the Belgians have shared with us, information provided directly to us from family members and loved ones, as well as media reports,” Toner said. “And we’re making every effort to locate U.S. citizens who are unaccounted for.”
Toner said embassy staff are “providing all possible emergency consular assistance to U.S. citizens,” but Belgian privacy laws “place certain restrictions on our access to hospitals that are treating the injured.”
“But we are making every effort to visit, meet with and assist those American citizens who’ve — or have been affected by the attacks, as well as, obviously, share information that we get with their loved ones,” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the State Department was aware of “approximately a dozen U.S. citizens” who have been injured in the attacks, a figure unchanged from Wednesday.
“Also at this time, we are not aware of any U.S. citizen deaths,” Toner added. “We must emphasize that a number of U.S. citizens remain unaccounted for, and Belgian authorities have not yet released nationality information for reported fatalities.”
The spokesman said “of course” the State Department is pressing Belgian authorities to speed up the process of identifying the dead, but “our understanding is that, you know, this was a mass casualty event… and with regard to some of those fatalities, identification is a problem. It’s hard. It’s difficult.”
“Also, many of the injured were taken to various hospitals around Brussels,” he said. “And so we understand that internally, the Belgians are also trying to come up with the identity — identify all these individuals and then release that information to the appropriate embassies, not just the United States, but other embassies or other missions that may have been affected.”
Toner declined to give a “precise number” of the Americans still missing after the attacks.
He did say two “official Americans” were missing — “individuals who were either dependent of or under — or employees of the U.S. government.”
Toner said “we don’t at this point have any credible evidence that suggests it was targeting Americans,” despite an assertion from the House Intelligence Committee chairman.
“It looks like it was targeted toward Americans to some degree,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday. “I say that because of the location of the first bombers at the airport which was right by the United, American and Delta Air Lines stands.” American Airlines said they weren’t targeted.
The metro bombing was near the U.S. Embassy. “If you’re going to pick some locations where you might hit Americans, those would be the locations,” Nunes said.