A suicide bomber has blown himself up at Brussels airport killing at least 11 people and a further blast tore through a rush-hour metro train in the capital shortly afterwards, claiming 10 lives, according to public broadcaster VRT.
A witness said he heard shouts in Arabic shortly before two blasts struck the packed airport departure lounge.
Pictures on social media showed smoke rising from the terminal building through shattered windows and passengers fleeing down a slipway, some still hauling their bags.
All public transport in Brussels was shut down, as it was in London during the 2005 militant attacks on the underground that killed 52.
A further 225 soldiers were sent into the city and the Belgian Crisis Centre, clearly wary of a further incident, appealed to the population: “Stay where you are.”
The blasts at the airport and metro station occurred four days after the arrest in Brussels of a suspected participant in the November militant attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
Belgian police had been on alert for any reprisal action.
British Sky News television’s Alex Rossi, at the airport, said he heard two “very, very loud explosions.
“I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well…I went towards where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked.”
Alphonse Youla, 40, who works at the airport, said he heard a man shouting out in Arabic before the first explosion. “Then the glass ceiling of the airport collapsed.
“I helped carry out five people dead, their legs mangled,” he said, his hands covered in blood.
The blasts triggered concern across western Europe with Britain and France calling emergency security meetings. The Dutch military strengthened security at airports and borders and Britain stepped up police presence at key locations including transport hubs.
Video showed devastation inside the departure hall with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor. Some passengers emerged from the terminal with blood spattered over their clothes. Others sat wrapped with blankets.
A witness said the blasts occurred at a check-in desk.
Belga news agency cited the fire brigade as saying 11 were killed at the airport, but there was still some uncertainty about casualties.
The metro station hit by the explosion was Maelbeek, close to European Union institutions.
The VRT broadcaster carried a photograph of a metro carriage at a platform with doors and windows completely blown out, its structure deformed and the interior mangled and charred. It said 10 were killed in the blast.
A local journalist tweeted a photograph of a person lying covered in blood amid smoke outside Maelbeek metro station, on the main Rue de la Loi avenue which connects central Brussels with the EU institutions.
Brussels airport said it had cancelled all flights until at least 6am (1600 AEDT) on Wednesday and the complex had been evacuated and trains to the airport had been stopped. Passengers were taken to coaches from the terminal that would remove them to a secure area.
All three main long-distance rail stations in Brussels were closed and train services on the cross-channel tunnel from London to Brussels were suspended.
Local News Matters
Media diversity is under threat in Australia – nowhere more so than in South Australia. The state needs more than one voice to guide it forward and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. Please click below to help InDaily continue to uncover the facts.