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At Least 13 Dead, 35 Wounded After Blasts In Brussels


We are following some very dramatic events in the city of Brussels this morning. There has been - there have several explosions at the international airport in that city and an explosion at a metro station. The city is under attack. We've been hearing voices from the city all morning, and let's turn now to NPR's counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston. And, Dina, I feel like this is a moment where we should sort of step back and just recall what exactly is taking place in the city this morning. Can you walk us through?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Sure. It started with - the first blast happened at 8:30 this morning in the departure hall of the international airport there. It's unclear, according to Belgian officials, just how many attackers there were. But there was some sort of explosion, maybe two explosions, at the airport. About a half-hour later, a second attack started. That was around 9 a.m. That attack was some sort of explosion at the Maelbeek Metro, which is the metro stop that's right by EU headquarters in the central area of Brussels.

GREENE: So so much, really, to sort out, and the numbers continue to change. But it sounds, at this point, like there is something coordinated that has happened here in the city.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes. The big question is whether or not this is something that was coordinated in response to the arrest of a man named Salah Abdeslam, who was the only - as far as they know - surviving attacker from the Paris attacks in November. He was arrested on Friday. And Belgian officials said as soon as he was arrested that there was quite a network that was around him that had helped him hide out for the last four months while there'd been this global manhunt for him. And they warned that they were expecting more arrests and, in particular, accomplices that they were worried were getting ready to attack.

GREENE: So an important point here - and this is something you and I have spoken about before - I mean, it is possible that the arrest of this person, believed to be one of the lone survivors who carried out the Paris attacks - that that arrest somehow might have sent some message to others to carry out something. I mean, you have talked about that as a hypothetical possibility.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, that's a possibility, but even if we step back for a second, we understand from Belgian officials - and they made this reasonably public - that Salah Abdeslam was talking to them. So even if his arrest was not some sort of signal to people who were, you know, lying in wait, the fact that he was talking would lead them to believe that if they were going to do something, they needed to do something quickly before officials would come knocking on their doors.


Dina, stay with us for a moment. We're going to bring in Peter Spiegel now. He is the bureau chief of the Financial Times in Brussels, Belgium. He's on the line. Welcome, to the program, sir.

PETER SPIEGEL: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what's it been like to be in Brussels today?

SPIEGEL: Well, sadly it's something we've gotten used to here in Europe. This is - obviously, we had a lockdown here in Brussels back in November when the threat level went up to four. They seemed to think they foiled something back then. But, you know, as you said there, there was - been, over the last 24, 48 hours, various government officials coming out saying, we think that the Abdeslam arrest will trigger something. So it was definitely - this is a real feel here today that's different from back in November because there was a lot of annoyed people getting to work, can't figure out why we cannot get the bus through to the office. And when they found what had actually happened, you know, tears, people covering their faces. So it is - it is a marked different feeling than it was back in November. But to be honest with you, it's something that we've all lived through here in Brussels, unfortunately, several times over the last 12 to 18 months.

INSKEEP: Now, what have you or your colleagues experience on this day that sticks with you at the airport, at the metro station, anywhere else in the city?

SPIEGEL: Well, one of my colleagues - again that Maelbeek station that you spoke about, which is not the main EU station, but is literally 300 yards from where I'm speaking to you in my office - that is the line that all of us use to get to work in the morning. And one of my colleagues was literally on the train that we believe was blown up. He walked out of the station, turned around and saw smoke coming out. So that was sort of the moment that had us all - our hearts stop this morning. And that's the one, I think, that will remain in our minds.

Another good friend of mine - source of mine - senior EU official here who works on the Eurozone crisis was about to walk into the airport for a business trip to Rome where he was going to talk to the Italian government on economic issues, again, suddenly heard the explosion, thought it was construction. This is a guy, again, who's lived through the worst of the Eurozone crisis, you know, usually unflappable. And I spoke with him on the phone and just sort of, like, a leaf, was just incredibly shaken. So rather seasoned veteran diplomats and those types here in Brussels really in a state of - sort of really shaken by this. And it's not something you really see amongst a lot of these people who are, in many cases, sort of rather hard-bitten, experienced with the ways of the world.

GREENE: Mr. Spiegel, you suggest that a city like Brussels is, as you put it, getting used to this in Europe. And, you know, I recall just some months ago in Paris, seeing a city that was sort of defiant - I mean, people wanting to go out to cafes and send a message that terrorism was not going to affect them. It sounds like, based on what you're saying, that things are sort of changing in Europe as time goes on now.

SPIEGEL: Yeah. You have sort of the dual-face of this. There is defiance here. I mean, that certainly was the case during the lockdown in November where people, you know, wanted to show they were getting their life back to normal. Again, a lot of dark humor - you know, this is a country that's known for surrealism - so tweeting of cats and all this kind of stuff. But to be honest with you, we have a lot of Belgian friends, and you'd got to cocktail parties and talk about this. And there were people talking about, gosh, maybe we should move to Francophone Canada, or, you know, lots of, amongst parents, talking about how the security is at their school. And I had a friend who told me that one of the schools that has a particularly sort of visible security presence was getting inundated by applications from parents looking to keep their kids in a more secure location.

So it does have people spooked. And it does - I think, going to change the nature people have - approach these things. You know, even my own family, you know, having living as expats here for six years, you know, raising questions about, you know, whether this is a place that's safe for our children. And in-laws in particular not particularly happy that we're living here right now. So it is something that ripples through, not only the expat community here, but certainly the locals as well, questioning what the future is for this small, little country.

GREENE: OK. We have been listening to many voices this morning, and before I let you both go, I want to play one other voice. It's the voice of Alexandros Koronakis. He's the editor of the New Europe newspaper, and we spoke to him earlier at the newspaper's headquarters in Brussels. And he was talking about terrorism and the effect on the country right now. Let's give a listen here.

ALEXANDROS KORONAKIS: I think when it comes to terrorism, a country and a city can do as much as it can to prepare. But what can you do when someone straps a bomb to himself and walks into a public building?

INSKEEP: That's the question that he posed in answer to another question. What does it mean? What does it really mean when a city like Brussels is expecting an attack? And we've heard, in the last few minutes, once again, that authorities were expecting something to happen for the last few days. Whether it's expecting an attack and is unable to defend itself, at least in that moment, that is one of the questions Brussels faces, that Belgium faces, that all of Europe faces on this Tuesday morning after an attack that appears to have killed more than two dozen people in at least two different locations in Brussels, Belgium, one of them an airport, another a metro station. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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