Transport hubs around the world including airports, train stations and road check points ramped up their security today after suspected suicide attacks in Brussels.
There was a heavy security presence at transport hubs across the globe as police and military personnel carried out high visibility patrols, while travellers were advised to give extra time for baggage checks and checking in.
Brussels airport was shut down completely after this morning’s blasts, with flights into Belgium being diverted elsewhere, and Eurostar services in and out of Brussels were suspended.
The entire border between Belgium and France was placed on lock-down, and the Thalys train service – which travels between France, Belgium and the Netherlands – was halted in the wake of the explosions, the operator said.
Police forces across the UK have increased their presence at key locations as a precaution in the wake of the Brussels attacks, the country’s most senior counter-terrorism officer Mark Rowley has said.
And in the US, the NYPD said it would be increasing security measures at mass transit points, bridges and tunnels, and other landmarks following today’s attacks.
Witnesses in Belgium described seeing ‘dismembered bodies everywhere’ after the blasts hit the American Airlines check-in desk at around 8am (7am GMT).
There were reports that shouts in Arabic were heard before the explosions and shots fired in the aftermath.
Around 90 minutes later, 10 people were killed when an explosion hit a Metro station near the EU headquarters in the city centre in another suspected terror attack.
American Airlines confirmed that its planned flight from Brussels to Philadelphia in the US, which had been scheduled to depart at 9.40am had been cancelled in the wake of the blasts.
A spokesman said: ‘We are aware of an incident at the Brussels airport departure hall and are taking care of our customers, employees and contractors. At this time, all of our employees and contractors are accounted for with no reported injuries.
‘American Airlines flight 751 has been cancelled for today. When operations at the airport resume, we will re-accommodate our customers.’
Eurostar, which links London with Brussels and Paris via the Channel Tunnel, said no trains are currently running to or from Brussels Midi station. Passengers were being advised to postpone their journeys.
Services had been terminating at Lille in France, before the entire route was suspended – and the train company was looking into instead running a train service between London and Lille.
A spokesman said: ‘We have suspended all services to and from Brussels until further notice. We are looking at running a shuttle service between Lille and Brussels.’
A spokesman for travel organisation Abta said British holidaymakers in Brussels should follow the instructions of the Belgian authorities, while those due to travel should contact their transport provider.
He added that although Belgium is a popular destination for UK visitors, March is ‘one of the quieter months for leisure travel’.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has updated its travel advice for Brussels.
It issued a statement which read: ‘You should stay away from crowded places and avoid public transport at this time.’
British officials in the city have been given the same instructions, the FCO said.
Prime Minister David Cameron has called a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee, and said Britain would ‘do everything we can to help’.
Britain’s official terrorist threat level stands at ‘severe’, the second-highest level on a five-point scale, meaning an attack is highly likely.
In London, police were carrying out extra patrols of airports, and advising passengers to check with their airlines before travelling.
A Gatwick spokesman said: ‘The safety of passengers and staff at Gatwick is the airport’s absolute priority. As a result of the terrible incidents in Brussels, we have increased our security presence and patrols around the airport.’
A spokesman for Heathrow Airport added: ‘We take the safety and security of our passengers and colleagues very seriously.
‘In the light of events in Brussels airport, we are working with the police at Heathrow who are providing a high visibility presence. We expect flights to Brussels Airport to be affected and ask passengers travelling there to check their flight status with their airline.’
Aeroports de Paris, which operates the Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports, said they were both operating as normal – but that extra security measures brought in following the terror attacks on the city in November were still in place and passengers should continue to allow an extra hour for checks.
France’s top security official, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, said the country was reinforcing security at airports, train stations and on metro services, and immediately increased its vigilance after the Belgian attacks.
France has been on highest alert since the November 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.
The Dutch anti-terror authority said the threat level in the Netherlands was unchanged at ‘substantial’. It said extra security measures would be in place at the country’s airports and borders.
Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov said authorities will re-evaluate security at Russian airports. In 2011, a suicide bombing at a Moscow airport killed 37 and injured many more.
Raffaello Pantucci, an international security expert for the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said attacks on airport usually suggest an international terrorism plot, as they are high profile targets which can undermine global security.
However, he said it would not surprise him if today’s blasts were linked to the arrest last week of he arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the quartermaster for the Paris massacres.
‘At this point, there has not been a claim of responsibility,’ he said.
‘An airport usually suggests international terrorism, but it would not surprise me if it was linked with the wider community around that network.’
On the issue of airport security, he said: ‘Most airports you cannot get in without layers of security.
‘They have long been targets and they are quite hard targets. The reality is, they are also high profile targets.
‘If you can launch an attack there, you are striking at the international border and getting a lot of attention.
‘If you attack that, you undermine the global security.’
But he said more security measures could be rolled out at European airports, pointing to countries which have been afflicted by terrorism, like Pakistan.
He said: ‘There is also more you can do. You can push out more security.
‘In international airports, the security really starts a lot earlier, such as when people come to the car park.
‘You see that a lot in the third world, where countries have had problems. The first barrier people have is much further.’