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More Than 2 Dozen Killed In Brussels Terror Attacks


Terrorists have launched another attack in the heart of Europe. This time, it was Brussels.


Two bombs went off at the country's main international airport this morning and a short time later in a subway station, hitting a train car filled with commuters. At least 30 people were killed in the two attacks, and more than 200 are injured. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston joins us with the latest. And Dina, first, what are you hearing about the investigation at this point?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, Belgian police have started circulating a photograph they believe may have captured an image of the attackers. French intelligence officials close to the investigation told us earlier this morning that there may have been two suicide bombers at the airport, not just one. And the photograph they're focusing on now is of three men wheeling luggage carts through the airport.

Two of the men war wearing black sweaters and a single black glove on one hand, which officials say may have been hiding detonators connected to suicide vests. Then there's a third man in the photograph, too, and he's wearing his jacket open and wearing a hat but no gloves.

Some officials wonder if he may have been there to ensure that the men actually went through with their mission. This is a common practice in which someone from the organization accompanies a suicide bomber with either a backup detonator or to make sure the attack happens. And police are also looking for one or two men who may have dropped the attackers off at the airport.

SIEGEL: Now, the second attack at the metro station - what more do you know about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there's been much less information released about that. We know from law enforcement sources in Brussels that an explosion happened inside a metro car stopped near the Maelbeek Metro Station, which is the metro station near the European community headquarters.

But it's still unclear whether that was a suicide bombing attack or whether someone just left a piece of luggage on the train with a bomb timed to go off. The casualty numbers keep changing, but municipal officials say at least 20 died in the metro attack, and more than a dozen were killed in the airport bombing.

SIEGEL: Now, we've heard that ISIS has claimed responsibility. What can you tell us about that, and how is that claim being viewed?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there were posts on social media from ISIS followers all morning claiming the group was behind the attack. But usually, we look for statements that come out of outlets known to have connections to the group, and that happened this afternoon when a statement came out on ISIS's telegram feed and the Amaq News Agency, which often releases ISIS statements.

The group said in the statement that it had sent shooters and bombers to the airport and the metro station in retaliation for Belgium's part in the coalition that's been bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Now, we don't know yet that there were shooters involved. We haven't had any reports of that. But when ISIS took responsibility for the Paris attacks, you may remember that it actually talked about an attack in a part of Paris where nothing had happened. So that could be what happened here, too - that the plan was supposed to involve shooting, but for some reason, that didn't happen.

SIEGEL: Let's talk about Brussels - not just a Belgian city but home to the European Union - many of its institutions, home to NATO, to its offices. Why would ISIS attack Brussels?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it could be some of that symbolism that you've just talked about. Or it could also be because Belgium has more people traveling to Syria to fight per capita than any other place in the world. Over 200 Belgians have traveled to Syria to fight, and officials think about 120 of those people have returned.

Now, here in the U.S., the numbers are much smaller. Officials tell me there are probably a couple of dozen people here in the U.S. who have returned from Syria. And in fact, the FBI said today, it's keeping quite close tabs on those people.

But the scale of the problem is completely different in Belgium, and authorities here in Belgium don't have the manpower to follow 120 people all day, every day. So people who are plotting attacks can take advantage of that.

SIEGEL: And while this involved bombs, it's often pointed out that there's a lot of gun traffic through Belgium as well in Europe.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There's a lot of gun traffic through Belgium, and it's rather easy to have guns cross borders there as well. And in addition, people were wondering whether or not this attack happened because of the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the Paris attacker. And officials I spoke with said they think this attack had been planned for months and that perhaps when Salah Abdeslam, the alleged Paris attacker, was arrested last week, people behind this attack were worried they'd be to be compromised, so they moved up their timetable.

SIEGEL: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, thanks a lot.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.