ISIS claims responsibility for Brussels bombs
Manhunt for escaped bomber as terror attacks leave 34 dead
A huge manhunt was under way across Belgium to find one of the suspects in the Brussels bombings which left at least 34 dead and more than 250 injured.
Reports earlier today that a man arrested by police was Najim Laachraoui have been withdrawn.
Belgian prosecutor, Frederic Van Leeuw, said police are seeking a man wearing a hat and light-coloured jacket, believed to be Laachraoui, seen pushing a trolley through the Zaventem airport where 14 died in two explosions. A further blast at the Maelbeek metro station killed 20.
Two of the bombers were named as brothers Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui. The RTBF broadcaster said the pair were known to police.
Some victims were said to have been hit in the confusion at the airport caused by the second blast as they tried to escape from the first. A man from Nottingham is believed to be among the victims of the Metro attack.
The terrorists waged their revenge on the city following the arrest earlier this week of the chief suspect behind the Paris attacks in November.
Just after 3.20pm the Islamic State group claimed responsibility in a statement issued via its A’maq news agency in which it said “several” Islamic “state fighters” opened fire at the airport before detonating explosive belts as a “martyrdom bomber” blew himself up on the Metro station.
An online statement from the group said the locations were “carefully selected” and warned of worse to come for “Crusader states allied against the Islamic State”.
A third bomb was found and destroyed in a controlled detonation.
Americans appeared to be a target of the bombers and coffee chain Starbucks responded by shutting its seven outlets in the city.
“We are deeply saddened by the senseless acts that have taken place in Brussels,” said a company statement just hours after the attack. It said all Starbucks stores in Brussels will remain closed until further notice.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel described it as a “black day”, adding: “I would like to call on everyone to show calmness and solidarity.”
World leaders expressed their support for the Belgian people. Brussels was empty, with restaurants and other facilities closed.
All flights in and out of the city were cancelled along with Eurostar trains.
British police presence was stepped up around the UK, including Scottish airports and rail stations, in response the heightened tension.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon chaired a Scottish Government resilience (SGORR) meeting. Afterwards she said: “I convened a Scottish Government resilience meeting to ensure that in Scotland we are closely monitoring the situation. We are working alongside the UK Government and we stand ready to help in any way we can.
“We are also working closely with the FCO, Police Scotland and other partners to ensure that those who have been caught up in this senseless attack or who may be concerned about relatives have all of the advice, help and information they need. I would encourage anyone with concerns about the welfare of their friends and families who may have been in Brussels to contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Crisis Centre helpline on +44 207 008 0000.
“While the UK threat level has not changed and there is no specific threat in Scotland, police patrols in place at airports and rail stations have been increased to provide reassurance. People in Scotland should be vigilant but go about their daily business without fear.
“Scotland is a diverse multi-cultural society and this diversity is our strength. Terrorist attacks are intended to divide us and destroy the freedoms and way of life we value so highly. We must unite as a community here at home – and in solidarity with those in Brussels – to make clear that they will not succeed.”
The markets held up in spite of the incident, with the FTSE 100 closing up 8.16 points at 6,192.74, though shares in travel companies were among the hardest hit. Thomas Cook, which reported a slowdown in first half bookings due to a “volatile geopolitical backdrop”, saw its shares down 5.7% by mid-afternoon and close down 4.27%.
Other travel and leisure stocks including Expedia, Priceline and Carnival Corp. were also under pressure.
Investors switched into havens such as gold and government bond. Oil held up with West Texas Intermediate down just 0.1% to $41.47 a barrel and Brent crude up 0.7% to $41.84.
The US dollar rose 1.1% against the pound and 0.2% against the euro.
US stocks ended mixed, with the Dow ending a seven-day winning run. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 0.2% and the S&P 500 0.1%, but the Nasdaq managed a 0.3% gain.
Stocks in Europe fell sharply early in the day, but the DAX and CAC 40 ended the day up while the Stoxx 600 trimmed its losses to close just slightly lower.