BRUSSELS: An explosion rocked the central train station in Brussels on Tuesday (Jun 20) and a man was shot by security as scenes of terror returned to the European capital.
A suspect shouted out “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) before causing the blast, a witness said.
Belgium’s national crisis said the suspect had been “neutralised” and the situation was under control.
A Belgian prosecutor said the Brussels station blast was a ‘terrorist attack’.
“This is considered as a terrorist attack,” federal prosecutor’s office spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told a news conference outside Brussels Gare Centrale station.
Spokesman for the Federal Prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt addresses the media on a street outside Gare Centrale in Brussels. (THIERRY ROGE/BELGA/AFP)
“The suspect has been neutralised by the military that were present at the scene immediately after the explosion. “We don’t know if the man is still alive or if he is dead.”
Van Der Sypt said there were “no other victims.” He added: “We have no idea of his identity for the time being.”
The confrontation in Belgium comes a day after a man mowed down Muslims near a mosque in London, and a radical Islamist on a terror watch-list rammed a car laden with weapons into a police vehicle in Paris.
The incident happened just before 1900 GMT (3.00am Singapore time Wednesday), causing Brussels’ Gare Centrale to be evacuated. The nearby Grand Place, a major tourist destination, was also evacuated.
Police officials walk in a cordoned-off area outside Gare Centrale in Brussels after an explosion in the Belgian capital. (Emmanuel DUNAND/AFP)
“There was man and a small explosion took place near him. Soldiers neutralised him with gunfire. No one (else) was injured,” federal police spokesman Peter De Waele said by phone to AFP.
Prime Minister Charles Michel and the interior minister were in the national crisis centre monitoring developments. Michel urged people via Twitter to follow instructions from the authorities.
Soldiers and police officials guide members of the public on a street outside Gare Centrale in Brussels after an explosion in the Belgian capital. (Emmanuel DUNAND/AFP)
Social media images showed an intense yet contained ball of fire in the station’s underground arrival hall.
“I went down to the mezzanine level, someone was shouting. Then he cried ‘Allahu Akbar’, and he blew up a trolley,” Nicolas Van Herrewegen, a railway sorting agent, told reporters.
“I was behind a wall when it exploded. I went down and alerted my colleagues to evacuate everyone. He (the suspect) was still around but after that we didn’t see him.”
Van Herrewegen added: “It wasn’t exactly a big explosion but the impact was pretty big. People were running away.”
He described the suspect as well-built and tanned with short hair, wearing a white shirt and jeans. “I saw that he had something on him because I could see wires emerging, so it may have been a suicide vest,” Van Herrewegen said.
About an hour after the events, the situation was “under control”, the federal crisis centre said in a tweet.
Gare Centrale is largely underground, located in the heart of Brussels, a few blocks from the Grand Place and the Manneken Pis statue.
It appeared that the suspect was neutralised by soldiers who have been deployed at railway stations and government buildings in Brussels since the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks when a link to Belgium was first established.
Firemen were called to the scene after a report of a small explosion, RTBF broadcaster reported.
Brussels has been on high alert since Islamic State suicide bombers struck the city’s airport and metro in March 2016, killing 32 people and injuring hundreds more.
The Islamic State group claimed the attacks, which were carried out by the same militant cell behind the November 2016 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
Belgium suffered a further shock last August when a machete-wielding man attacked two policewomen in the industrial town of Charleroi, before being shot dead.
The country’s law enforcement agencies and intelligence services came under intense scrutiny after the attacks for apparently missing a series of leads after the Paris attacks that could have led to the Brussels bombers.
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