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Police Report Deaths After Explosions At Brussels Airport And Metro


A single photograph drives home the events in Brussels, Belgium, today. This Associated Press photo shows two women sitting on a bench. They're inside a Brussels metro station, and one is talking on the phone, a perfectly ordinary scene until you look more closely and see that one woman has flecks of what seems to be blood on her white sleeves. And the other woman has blood on her face. She's leaning back with a stunned look on her face. They lived through attacks in Brussels that included one on the metro station.


Christina Dinieh (ph) works at a perfume shop close to the metro station.

CHRISTINA DINIEH: So we see everything, everything, everything. The people who (ph). It's - afraid - we're afraid of what's happening here. If I took the metro one hour later, I was in the middle. So I'm very, very, very afraid of the situation.

GREENE: That is the voice of one resident in Brussels. Now, the reporters covering this story and also living through it include Peter Spiegel for the Financial Times.

PETER SPIEGEL: Maelbeek station 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 - heart stop this morning.

GREENE: OK, so that was at a metro station. The other attack came at Zaventam Airport, where two explosions struck a departure hall.

SPIEGEL: A friend of mine, senior EU here official who works on the eurozone crisis, was about to walk in to the airport for a business trip to Rome where he was going to talk to the Italian government on economic issues, suddenly heard the explosion, thought it was construction. This is a guy who's lived through the worst of the eurozone crisis, usually unflappable. And I spoke with him on the phone and just sort of like a leaf, was just incredibly shaken.

INSKEEP: Peter Spiegel of the Financial Times, one of those who have lived through the events in Brussels today. We have a few numbers for you - tentative at best - 26 people are believed to be dead. Fifteen people are said to have been killed at the metro station. Eleven people are said to have been killed at the airport attack. And of course, at this early moment, those numbers are subject to change. All of this, of course, happened days after the arrest of a major terror suspect in Brussels. And let's talk about this now with Suzanne Lynch. She's a reporter for The Irish Times. She's based in Brussels. Welcome back to the program.

SUZANNE LYNCH: Good morning. Good morning - good afternoon here now at the state.

INSKEEP: Indeed. What have you been able to see the last few hours?

LYNCH: I've just stepped into one of the EU buildings here, where it's a bit quieter. I'm sitting about 400 meters or so from the Maelbeek metro station, where the attack has happened, and within the last hour have seen the number of ambulances, fire brigades and police vehicles traveled in by here and travel down to that site. It is still very much an ongoing operation. And their numbers of death - the death toll keeps rising. It's now - looks like there could be at least 20 people who lost their lives at that metro station, which, as I say, is about 400 meters from where I'm standing here at the headquarters of the EU.

INSKEEP: Now, we want to be very careful with the statistics here. We've got confirmed about 15. But you're saying there are possibilities of more people being killed there and of course, a large number of wounded. Is that correct?

LYNCH: Yeah. Belgian national media now is reporting that 20 people have been killed at that incident at Maelbeek station and a number have been injured. As I say, it's still very much a fluid situation. Just in the last couple of minutes, I've seen, for example, an empty city bus. All the traffic has stopped here, the public transport - the trams, the buses. But I saw an empty city bus going to the scene, filled with medical personnel with red crosses on their back. They're also being brought in to the scene to treat some of the wounded there. That's happened in the last few minutes.

GREENE: OK, so Suzanne, you say this is an ongoing operation. I mean, there are still people who are injured who are trying to get out of there. I mean, this is - the numbers could keep going up. The scenes are still very active.

LYNCH: Yeah, one thing that's worrying I suppose the fact that their number of seriously injured has consistently been high. The numbers of - since this attack happened in the last few hours, they have said dozens of been injured. So obviously, there is a possibility that that number could go up. Now, there are also in parallel - very unconfirmed at this stage - were reports of different raids going on throughout the city. Obviously, attention is turning to whether there were accomplices to these attacks - for example, who dropped off the - what we now know is a suicide bomber to the Brussels airport this morning. Was he part of a larger network? So at the same time as the emergency services are trying to respond to this very, very serious emergency situation, in parallel we've also got security forces who are trying to address the major security issues that's now facing the city. It's pretty much in lockdown. As I say, all public transport closed. People have been told to stay where they are. There is very much the sense that, you know, there could be further attacks. Police have said every - people need to be very vigilant. And the terror alert has been moved to Level 4, the highest level.

GREENE: OK, let's bring in NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston here. And Dina, it sounds like the terrorism alert is the highest level. There's a lot of activity, security forces around the city of Brussels. I mean, what, as far as you know, are they doing? Are they looking for people? I mean, what are they doing at this point?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: They've actually been looking for people for days. They arrested Salah Abdeslam, the only known surviving attacker of the Paris attacks, on Friday. And they were girding for something to happen in response. They knew he had a rather large network in Brussels that was clearly hiding him over the last four months, and they were concerned that they might lash out. We've just gotten some numbers. The metro officially has said that there are - the metro in Brussels officially said that there are 15 dead in the metro, 55 injured. And 10 of those injured are injured seriously. Now, those numbers are likely to change, but that's the first sort of official bulletin we've gotten from metro officials.

INSKEEP: Dina, you've been through so many of these attacks, covered so many of them and talked with counterterrorism officials so much. What does it do to law enforcement horse and counterterrorism officials when they can see an attack coming, as they seemed to believe an attack was coming here and they are proven not to be able to do anything about it?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it must be particularly difficult for Belgian officials because they knew there was a network out there. They kept discovering various caches of ammunition, and they discovered some detonators last week in an apartment that they raided that was clearly a safe house for someone. So they were really girding for something to happen, and they just didn't know where to turn.

INSKEEP: OK, Dina, thanks very much, really appreciate it. That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. We are also joined in this hour by Suzanne Lynch, a reporter at The Irish Times, who is in Brussels. Thanks very much for your reporting today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.