Thursday 24 March 2016

Brussels attacks: Airport, subway hit by blasts; dozens dead

ISIS claims responsibility for strikes; Belgium releases photo of three suspects at airport
By Tan Dawn Wei, In London, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2016

Brussels was rocked by multiple blasts that left nearly three dozen people dead yesterday, casting a pall over Europe as countries scrambled to tighten security at home.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called it "a black day" and raised the country's terror alert to the highest level after explosions tore through the international airport and a busy metro station, killing 34 people and wounding 187.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, which came four days after the capture in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam, wanted for his suspected role in the Nov 13 attacks in Paris that were also claimed by ISIS.

The Belgian authorities released a picture of three suspects at the airport pushing trolleys with suitcases.

The first two blasts ripped through the main terminal at Brussels Airport just before 8am (3pm in Singapore), bringing down a ceiling near check-in counters. Witnesses spoke of panic and gruesome scenes of dismembered bodies.

"A man shouted a few words in Arabic and then I heard a huge blast," airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura told Agence France-Presse. About an hour later, a third blast hit commuters at Maelbeek station, which is close to European Union offices.

"Our fears have become reality," said Mr Michel, confirming that the airport attack was a suicide bombing and calling on his people to "show calmness and solidarity".

Analysts were quick to suggest that yesterday's bombings could be a retaliatory attack. During last Friday's raid, police said they uncovered a large number of weapons and believed that Abdeslam was planning more attacks from Brussels.

Brussels shut its public transport network after the blasts.

Other European states swiftly stepped up security at airports and other key areas: France deployed an extra 1,600 police officers to its borders, and Britain mobilised police officers to patrol transport hubs and potentially vulnerable locations.

Singapore joined world leaders in condemning the attacks and vowed to stand with Belgium.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote to his Belgian counterpart to offer his condolences and said Singapore "strongly condemns these appalling acts".

Last Friday, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam warned that the rise of ISIS means that the threat of a terror attack in Singapore is at its highest level in recent times.

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean said yesterday that the Brussels attacks show "the difficulty that any country, even one which is on high alert... faces in making sure that these incidents don't take place at all".

The shocking terrorist attacks in Brussels today remind us yet again of the serious and continuing threat of terrorism....
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

<<Terror Threat - Clear and Present Danger>> Yet another city has been attacked by jihadi extremists. At least 34...
Posted by Ng Eng Hen on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Singapore steps up checks at entry points
By Calvin Yang and Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2016

Security has been beefed up at Changi Airport and other Singapore checkpoints, following Tuesday's blasts at Brussels Airport and a city metro station that killed 31 people and wounded 270.

The authorities here have also stepped up checks and patrols at key transport nodes, a Ministry of Home Affairs spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday. "We will calibrate security measures according to the threat environment," he said. No further details about the improved security were provided.

Mr Christopher de Souza, Government Parliamentary Committee chairman for Home Affairs and Law, said: "Heightened security at land, sea and air checkpoints must be expected. We must mentally prepare ourselves with a 'when' mindset and discard the comfortable 'if' mindset." He was echoing a point made last Friday by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who announced a major ramp-up of counter-terrorism measures.

“We have to prepare ourselves. I think every major city has got to prepare itself": Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam Sc in wake of #BrusselsAttacks.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Speaking at an event in Yishun yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said the threat of a terror attack has evolved significantly into "a serious monster". "Brussels was in a heightened state of alert and yet the attack took place," he said. "We have to prepare ourselves, and I think every major city has got to prepare itself. There are measures in place, but I again emphasise that unless you turn the entire city into a prison, it's not going to be possible to counter every possible attack."

Singapore will strengthen its security, such as by installing more closed-circuit television cameras in public places and training emergency response teams to react swiftly to attacks. There is also a need for building owners and event organisers to impose stringent security measures.

One measure suggested in the wake of Tuesday's attacks is screening all passengers and visitors before they enter airports. However, experts say this is unnecessary and would cause congestion.

They also ruled out measures used in other countries. At major Indian airports, for example, only travellers are allowed to enter terminals, while in Israel, checks are carried out as early as along approach roads to the airport.

"Soft targets" and terrorism
What are "soft targets," and why are they so vulnerable to terror attacks? #BrusselsAttacks
Posted by CNN International on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mr H.R. Mohandas, head of the diploma in aviation management programme at Republic Polytechnic, said: "Adequate steps are in place at Changi Airport with security patrols in the public areas, as well as checks on passengers before they enter the restricted areas."

Singapore Management University Assistant Professor Terence Fan, who specialises in transport, said keeping people away goes against efforts to market the airport as a shopping and dining haven.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna, who heads the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, said youth and other vulnerable people should be encouraged to take up roles in youth or community groups, to give them a stake in the country's security.

Additional reporting by Ng Huiwen

Attacks continue around the world, with today's multiple bombings in Brussels airport and train station. Last...
Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Nations step up security, vow to fight terrorism
More checks at borders and on public transport in Europe
The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2016

BRUSSELS • European countries have vowed to defend democracy against terrorism after explosions at Brussels Airport and in the European Union's institutional heart left more than two dozen people dead.

"Through the attacks in Brussels, the whole of Europe has been hit," French President Francois Hollande declared, urging the continent to take "vital steps in the face of the seriousness of the threat".

"France and Belgium are linked with the horror that we are sharing once again" - French President Francois Hollande.Continuing coverage:
Posted by BBC News on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

As country after country voiced anger and dismay, Russia and Turkey - themselves targets of deadly attacks in the last eight months - said the blasts highlighted the need to fight terrorism of every hue and across all borders.

In France, rocked by the deadly Paris attacks that killed 130 people last November, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 1,600 additional police officers would be deployed to bolster security at its borders and on public transport.

The Thalys high-speed trains - targeted in a previous aborted attack - linking France and Belgium were not operating yesterday, and the Eurostar train suspended its Brussels route.

Mr Cazeneuve said the French authorities have already prevented 10,000 people from entering the country since the Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The mayor of Paris said the Eiffel Tower would be lit up in Belgian colours as a symbol of support in the French capital city. "In solidarity with the people of Brussels, Paris will light up the Eiffel Tower this evening in the colours of the Belgian flag," Ms Anne Hidalgo said on her Twitter account yesterday.

In Germany, controls at the border with Belgium as well as airports and stations were boosted, a spokesman for the federal police said.

The Netherlands also stepped up security at national airports and train stations and tightened controls on the southern border with Belgium.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said increased police and military checks were taking place at airports and train stations around the country. However, he added that the threat level of an attack in the Netherlands had not been increased from the current "substantial" level.

"These are appalling and savage terrorist attacks" - UK Prime Minister David Cameron #Brussels
Posted by BBC News on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose country is also on a high security alert, said Europe should stand together against the terror threat, following an emergency Cabinet meeting in London.

"We will never let these terrorists win," he said, adding: "We face a very real terrorist threat right across the different countries of Europe."

The Cairo-based Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's leading seat of learning, condemned yesterday's attacks.

"These hateful crimes violate Islam's teaching of tolerance. If the international community does not unite against this epidemic, the corrupted will never cease to perpetuate their abject crimes against the innocent," it said in a statement.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the attacks and said its embassy in Brussels was closely monitoring the situation and contacting registered Singaporeans to ascertain their safety.

"We condemn these terrorist attacks which resulted in the loss of many innocent lives. We express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and wish the injured a speedy recovery," it said in a statement.

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, writing in a Facebook post, said: "Attacks continue around the world, with today's multiple bombings in Brussels airport and train station. Last Saturday there was a bombing in a shopping district in Turkey. Terrorists are continuing their targeting of innocent people. This is an evil which has to be fought, and defeated."

Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, yesterday said it strongly condemned terrorism and violent activities for any reason, and called on the international community to increase partnership in tackling radicalism and terrorism.


Youla has now assumed the mantle of an unlikely hero for onlookers who badly need one.
Posted by Washington Post on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

City of terror: Brussels suburb a hotbed of radicals
The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2016

BRUSSELS • Apart from its famous chocolates and beers, Belgium is fast gaining notoriety as a breeding ground for European jihadists.

The search for the attackers in last November's Paris attacks has led the authorities across the Belgian border to an impoverished suburb in Brussels - Molenbeek.

According to police, the carnage of the Paris attacks was plotted here, and it was in these streets in Molenbeek that fugitive Salah Abdeslam hid out in an apartment after abandoning his mission, dumping his suicide belt in a Parisian street and calling his friends for help, after apparently driving his co-conspirators to their deaths, reported CNN.

Abdeslam, believed to be a direct participant in the Paris attacks that left 130 people dead and more than 350 wounded, was arrested last Friday.

His arrest has inevitably brought renewed focus on the threats posed by the terrorist networks in Belgium.

Statistics from the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence showed that Belgium, with a population of just 11 million, has the highest per capita number of foreign fighters in Syria among the Western European countries.

Experts say nearly 500 men and women have left Belgium for Syria and Iraq since 2012, reported CNN. At the same time, they say more than 100 Belgians have returned home from Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) territory, with many facing immediate arrest.

Who are the Belgium terror attack suspects?
On Tuesday, two bombs exploded at Zaventem airport in Brussels and a third at the Belgian capital’s Maelbeek metro station. Four men are believed to have instigated the attacks, but who were they?
Posted by The Guardian on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Despite Belgium's efforts to counter terrorism, ISIS recruiters are still able to ply their extremist trade in the country.

Many are from Molenbeek, which has since gained a reputation as a hotbed of radicals, with its long history of links to extremism.

A CNBC report quoted Mr Claude Moniquet, a former Belgian intelligence agent and co-founder of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre, as saying that poverty and segregation are feeding extremism in the area.

Three of the eight terrorists involved in the attacks in Paris have strong links to Belgium.

Ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud was born in Belgium. Abdeslam's brother, Brahim, one of the suicide bombers who blew himself up outside a Paris cafe, owned a bar in Molenbeek, reported Reuters.

In January last year, police raided a suspected ISIS terror cell in Verviers, in the eastern part of Belgium, killing two men who were alleged to be on the brink of a major Paris- style attack.

After the raid, Molenbeek Mayor Francoise Schepmans told CNN that the suburb was aware of the problems it faced, with a cocktail of high unemployment among youth and terrorist propaganda.

The photo has come to define the attacks
Posted by TIME on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Travel restrictions: Europe halts air and rail links to Brussels
The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2016

BRUSSELS • Europe froze air and rail links to Brussels yesterday as the authorities tightened security in alarm over a series of deadly bomb blasts that ripped through the Belgian capital's airport and a city centre metro station.

As passengers fled the smoking airport and the bomb-hit Maalbeek metro station, the authorities yesterday shut down the airport, metro system, buses, trams and all three main long-distance railway stations in the capital.

"Our whole network is closed at the moment," Brussels public transport operator STIB warned people on Twitter, confirming the shutdown of the metro, bus and tram systems.

The Brussels-Zaventem international airport is closed until 6am local time (1pm Singapore time) today, the airport said. Belgian paper La Libre reported that two key railway stations would reopen yesterday, with increased military presence.

The shutdown hit hundreds of flights scheduled to arrive at and depart from the airport, halting more than 400 arrivals from across Europe and other international airports, including New York and Dakar.

"All flights cancelled at #brusselsairport for the rest of the day. Avoid the surroundings of the airport," the airport said on Twitter.

There are no direct flights from Singapore to Brussels.

The effects of the Brussels airport and train station closures rippled across Europe.

Major stations in Paris remained open but many police officers were seen patrolling in the city's Gare du Nord, from where Eurostar operates trains to London and Brussels.

Eurostar said all trains to and from Brussels had been halted.

"Following the incident in Brussels today we can confirm that Eurostar services are currently suspended on the Brussels route. Public transport in and around Brussels is also severely disrupted," Eurostar said in a statement.

European high-speed train service Thalys said all its traffic, too, had been stopped.

The Netherlands' anti-terrorism coordinating agency NCTV said it was raising airport security and tightening controls at its southern border which it shares with Belgium.

The London Gatwick, Frankfurt and Moscow airports, as well as those in Denmark, Sweden and Finland, have also raised security.

The Danish authorities have been on high alert since two people were killed in shooting attacks on a free speech event and a synagogue in Copenhagen in February last year.


Other attacks in Europe
The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2016

NOV 13, 2015: FRANCE

A team of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants carried out bombings and shootings in Paris and its northern suburb of St Denis, claiming 130 lives and wounding more than 350 people.

FEB 14, 2015: DENMARK

A Danish filmmaker was killed and three policemen wounded in a shooting at a Copenhagen cultural centre. The gunman later killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and wounded two more police officers, before he was shot dead by police a few hours later.

JAN 7-9, 2015: FRANCE

Twelve people were killed in a shooting at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly known for caricatures of Islam and other religions. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attack.

MAY 24, 2014: BELGIUM

A gunman opened fire at the Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four people, including two Israeli tourists.

MARCH 11 -19, 2012: FRANCE

Mohamed Merah, 23, killed three soldiers, three Jewish children and a teacher in Toulouse. A self-described Al-Qaeda sympathiser, he was shot dead by police after a siege of his apartment.


Four suicide bombers blew themselves up in coordinated attacks on London's underground rail network and a bus, leaving 52 people dead and 700 wounded. The attacks were claimed by Al-Qaeda.

MARCH 11, 2004: SPAIN

A dozen shrapnel-filled bombs exploded on four commuter trains heading for Madrid's Atocha station, leaving 191 dead and about 2,000 injured. The attacks were claimed by militants who said they had acted on Al-Qaeda's behalf.


Terror-ready skills for dangerous times
Editorial, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2016

The deeply worrying aspects of the terrorist outrages in Brussels this week, Jakarta earlier this year, and Paris last November are the tactic of striking multiple soft targets and the growing ability of groups to carry out such operations. In Belgium, there was an unnerving breach of airport security and intelligence failure, despite Brussels being known to offer "an ideal hiding place" for terrorists, as noted by an authority on Belgian security. The capital harbours jihadist sympathisers and its borders are open, being part of the European area which has no passport controls.

Plugging the security gaps in Europe will not be easy as it will require different state agencies to share information seamlessly in order to monitor risks. This will have to be done both among themselves and with their counterparts in other countries, some of which might be lagging in technical and security response capabilities. Meanwhile, terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is suspected to have grown a creeping web across Europe, gained access to skilled bombmakers, trained its jihadists to mount multiple attacks, and learnt to encrypt messages to foil anti-terrorist operatives.

It is against this troubling backdrop that Singaporeans ought to view the steps being taken here to enhance the nation's security architecture and to prepare all citizens for a terrorist attack. Government leaders have repeated, ominously, that it is no longer a question of if but when an attack hits home. Given the nature of the threat, nothing short of a comprehensive strategic response is required. Fast-moving serial attacks, for example, call for the addition of new emergency response teams capable of reaching all the places targeted by terrorists as quickly as possible. As the latter's aim is to sow confusion and stretch the nation's resources to the limit, greater coordination will be needed across agencies to rise above the situation. Faster responses will be possible with a significant expansion of the coverage of public and private closed-circuit TV cameras, combined with sophisticated real-time analysis of CCTV data.

Of course, security teams alone will not be enough as terrorists strive calculatedly to maximise harm, generate fear and divide society. Hence the need for the new national movement, dubbed SG Secure, to "sensitise, organise, train and exercise Singaporeans", in Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam's words. This must go beyond public awareness of the risks, tolerance of widespread surveillance and acceptance of screening measures at major events. To better deal with threats, Singaporeans should be also ready to render help when calamities strike. Being prepared for all emergencies and keeping one's head amid chaos will be crucial to defeat terror. Above all, it should not be allowed to break the Singapore spirit or tear asunder the country's hard-won unity.

Many people online criticised the scale of the response to the #BrusselsAttacks compared to those in Ankara and Istanbul.
Posted by BBC News on Friday, March 25, 2016

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