Belgian police are hunting an Islamic State suspect seen with two supposed suicide bombers, shortly before they struck Brussels Airport in the first of two attacks that also hit the city's metro, killing at least 30 and wounding over 200.
>The blasts on Tuesday claimed by the Syrian-based militants four days after the arrest in Brussels of a prime suspect in November's Paris attacks, sent shockwaves across Europe and around the world, with authorities racing to review security at airports and transit systems, and drawing an outpouring of solidarity.
“We can and we will defeat those who threaten the safety and security of people all around the world,” said U.S. President Barack Obama.
Brussels police mounted an operation in the north of the city, turning up another bomb, an Islamic State flag and bomb-making chemicals in an apartment in the borough of Schaerbeek.
Local media said authorities had followed a tip from a taxi driver, who believed he may have driven the bombers to the airport.
Investigators said >they were focusing on a man in a hat, who was caught on CCTV pushing a laden baggage trolley at the airport with two others they believed was the bombers. An unused explosive device was later found at the airport and a man was seen running away from the terminal after the explosions.
Security experts believed the blasts, which killed about 20 on a metro train running through the area that houses European Union institutions, were probably in preparation before Friday's arrest of locally based French national Salah Abdeslam, 26, whom prosecutors accuse of a key role in the Paris attacks.
He was caught and has been speaking to investigators after a shootout at an apartment in the south of the city a week ago, after which another Islamic State flag and explosives were found. It was unclear whether he had knowledge of the new attack or whether accomplices may have feared police were closing in.
Islamic State said in a statement that “caliphate soldiers, strapped with suicide vests and carrying explosive devices and machineguns” struck Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station.
It was not clear, however, that the attackers used vests. The suspects were photographed pushing bags on trolleys, and witnesses said many of the airport dead and wounded were hit mostly in the legs, possibly indicating blasts at floor level.
Man with the hat
“A photograph of three male suspects was taken at Zaventem. Two of them seem to have committed suicide attacks. The third, wearing a light-coloured jacket and a hat, is actively being sought,” prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw told a news conference.
Belgian authorities were still checking whether the attacks were linked to Abdeslam's arrest, he added.
The two men in dark clothes wore gloves on their left hands only. One security expert speculated they might have concealed detonators. The man with the hat was not wearing any gloves.
“If you recognise this individual or if you have information on this attack, please contact the investigators,” a police wanted notice for the third man read. “Discretion assured.”
Islamic State warned of “black days” for those fighting it in Syria and Iraq. Belgian warplanes have joined the coalition in the Middle East, but Brussels, home to the European Union and NATO headquarters, has long been a centre of Islamist militancy.
Some 300 Belgians are estimated to have fought with Islamists in Syria, making the country of 11 million the leading European exporter of foreign fighters and a focus of concern in France and other neighbours over its security capabilities.