What happened in Brussels, the capital of Europe, on 22 March

Not only is Brussels the capital of Belgium, it is the capital of Europe. Our continent has been hit to its very heart. Here’s what happened on the 22nd of March.

Two explosions rocked the departures area in Zavantem international airport. Then, another explosion devastated the metro station of Maelbeek, about an hour and a half later. This is how the attacks to Brussels and to the very heart of Belgium and Europe begun on 22 March, just a few steps from the main communitarian institutions.

“We saw people running away, everybody was going crazy,” told Gianfranco B., witness at Brussels airport, to LifeGate. “We firstly thought it was a false alarm. We couldn’t believe a similar attack could hit one of Europe’s main international airports”.

Brussels blocks all means of transport

As hours went by, death toll rose to 34 victims, with over 198 injured. On 22 March, 225 armed soldiers patrolled the European Commission’s headquarters, while all vehicles were blocked in order to ease ambulances’ circulation. Metro lines, railway stations and the airport were evacuated and closed. The day after, the city was paralysed and guarded by security forces.

The terrorist attack was confirmed shortly after 13:00 through a public statement by the Amaq Agency: the Islamic State claimed responsibility of the attacks and threatened to further hit Europe.

I fiori e le frasi per i morti durante gli attentati di Bruxelles, in Belgio, nel cuore dell'Europa (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Tributes to the victims of the Brussels attacks (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Europe’s capital is isolated from the rest of the world

A “cordon sanitaire” has been set up around Belgium in order to isolate the threat: flights arriving at and departing from the country have been cancelled. France and Germany closed their borders, while Eurostar trains between London and Brussels have been suspended. Many problems have been also reported with telephone lines. The government has called a national security council to face the emergency.

The attacks have hit a city already characterised by high alert levels and theatre of the arrest – thanks to a blitz carried out by police forces four days ago – of the most-wanted terrorist Salah Abdeslam. The man, considered to be the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, was allegedly planning further attacks in Europe. Meanwhile, 25-year old Najim Laachraoui, considered one of the organisers of the Paris attacks whose trails were found in his hideout in Molenbeek district, remains a fugitive. His DNA was found in two belts: one used at Bataclan theatre, the other at the Stade de France.

“With the Brussels attacks, the whole of Europe has been hit,” said French President Francois Hollande, while Europe leaders spoke out against the attacks declaring their support to Belgium. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini broke down in tears when speaking of the Brussels bombings: “Europe and its capital are suffering the same pain that Middle East has known and knows every single day”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the “coward attacks” in Brussels, asking for unity and determination, while British Premier David Cameron urged Europe to remain united: “We won’t let these terrorists win”.

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