Four days after the arrest of Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam in Brussels, the Belgian capital has been hit by at least three explosions.
At the time of writing, 26 people have been killed and over 100 injured in two blasts at the departures area of Brussels International Airport and one at a metro station in the capital, close to European Union and European Commission headquarters. A Belgian prosecutor has said that the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers.
Borders were already on alert following INTERPOL advice in the wake of Abdeslam’s arrest. All flights to the airport have been diverted with other European airports being placed on high alert. Eurostar has cancelled all trains to and from Brussels. The Thalys France-Benelux train operator says the entire network is closed.
It is strongly suspected that Abdeslam was planning, or part of the plans for, large scale attacks in Brussels or another European city. His arrest, the INTERPOL warning, and early reports that Abdeslam was cooperating with police and intelligence services, may well have led his cohorts to act sooner, rather than later.
As the airport blasts occurred in the departures area of the airport, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the intention may have been to detonate a device in the air, over a city. Alternatively, the attackers may have been trying to obtain passage to Syria, as intelligence forces closed in on the operations surrounding Abdeslam.
Images suggest that the blasts occurred before security checkpoints, but this has not yet been confirmed. There are also unconfirmed reports of Kalashnikov AK-47s found at the airport following the attacks – the same type of weapon used in the Paris attacks last November.
Yesterday, before the attacks, Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon warned of possible revenge attacks after the capture of Abdeslam. He told Belgian radio, "We know that stopping one cell can…push others into action. We are aware of it in this case."
Belgian police are now undertaking house raids in several areas of Brussels. The city is on lockdown and the whole country is on the highest level of alert. The Free University of Brussels says it has received a specific threat; consequently, access to the campus is being restricted by security.
The ease at which people can move between European borders came under great scrutiny following the Paris attacks, and some measures were put in place by a number of countries to bolster the security at their borders – in the wake of the attacks and also as a defense against the increasing number of migrants attempting to enter Europe.
Immediately after the Paris attacks, Abdeslam, and possibly others, were able to flee to their Belgian base in Molenbeek, Brussels just as easily as they travelled into France, and indeed, even into Europe previously.
Much has been discussed regarding the Schengen agreement and its relevance in today’s era of mass migration and terror cells. Schengen allows for travel between participating European countries without the need for security, such as passport checks. With another major assault on a European capital, the time for discussion is over. The time for action was yesterday.