Brussels bomb suspect was Moroccan and 'known to police'

Fire is seen at Brussels central station in Brussels, Belgium June 20, 2017Image copyright Reuters/Remy Bonnaffe Image caption The initial explosion was captured by a local lawyer

A man suspected of setting off a bomb at Brussels Central Station on Tuesday has been identified as a 36-year-old Moroccan from a city district that has spawned a number of jihadist attackers.

The unnamed suspect came from Molenbeek, and a number of raids in the area were reported early on Wednesday.

He was shot and later died after the explosion, which is being treated as a terrorist attack.

He was known to police but had not been linked to terrorism, reports said.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters that a "terrorist attack had been averted" at the station. Soldiers on patrol at the station on Tuesday evening had been able to "neutralise" the attacker, the prime minister said. The attack apparently took place between the main hall and two platforms.

After convening a security cabinet on Wednesday he said extra measures were being taken to secure stations, public places and major events. A major concert by rock group Coldplay is due to go ahead as planned.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Security was tight around Brussels Central Station on Wednesday

Brussels was hit by a double bombing in March 2016 in which 32 people died. The attacks on Zaventem airport and the Brussels metro were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Defence Minister Steven Vandeput praised the soldiers for following their guidelines to the book, by opening fire on the attacker as a bag blew up. The device has been described as a nail bomb that could have caused far more damage.

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Media captionPolice arrive after explosion in Brussels central train station

A bystander who took a picture of a bag on fire said he did not at first realise it was a bomb. "It was only when I heard the second blast and then shots being fired that I thought I'd better run," said lawyer Rémy Bonnaffée.

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Nicolas Van Herrewegen, a railway sorting agent, said he had gone down to the station's mezzanine level when he heard someone shouting.

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Media captionNicolas Van Herrewegen saw a man with a suicide belt shout "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great" in Arabic)

"Then he cried 'Allahu Akbar' and he blew up a wheeled suitcase," he told AFP news agency.

"I was behind a wall when it exploded. I went down and alerted my colleagues to evacuate everyone. He [the suspect] was still around but after that we didn't see him."

"It wasn't exactly a big explosion but the impact was pretty big," he added. "People were running away."

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Armed Belgian police have sealed off the scene

Mr Van Herrewegen described the suspect as well-built and tanned with short hair, wearing a white shirt and jeans.

"I saw that he had something on him because I could see wires emerging, so it may have been a suicide vest," he said.

'Shutters down'

Arash Aazami arrived at the station just after the explosion. He told the On Events: "As we entered into the station, we were evacuated loudly by some security personnel.

"Looked around, saw people running in the streets, trying to seek refuge and decided to do the same ourselves."

Image copyright AFP Image caption Police and soldiers guided people to safety outside the station

As the station and Grand Place were evacuated, businesses and restaurants were ordered to close and draw down their shutters and metro lines running through the station were also briefly suspended.

Several attacks have taken place in Paris and London in recent days.

The French capital was jolted on Monday when a man with an Islamist background died after ramming his car into a police van on the Avenue des Champs-Élysée.

London has also been on edge since a van was driven into Muslim worshippers outside a mosque on Sunday night, with one man dying and nine people injured. It followed IS-claimed attacks on London's Borough Market in June and a pop concert in Manchester in May that together left some 30 people dead and more than 100 injured.

BBC

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