Brussels Update: Attacks Mark A Grim Milestone For Europe
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We are continuing to track developments in the bombings today. The attacks - let us say - in Brussels, Belgium. Our counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston, has been talking with her sources in - from - her base in New York. Dina, what have you learned?
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, I was speaking to some French intelligence officials who are close to this investigation, and it appears that there could have been two bombers at the airport - not one. It's unclear whether there were two bombs - maybe one in a suitcase and one strapped onto a suicide bomber - or whether there were two actual bombers. They've also found - investigators have also found - a Kalashnikov gun at the airport, but it's unclear whether there was any shooting before these bombings happened first thing this morning at 8 o'clock. There were also...
INSKEEP: I appreciate you saying this. Let's remember that some witnesses have said there were two explosions. Other witnesses have said maybe it was a gunshot and an explosion. They don't really know. That's what you're getting at here.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, and the prime minister seemed to indicate that at least in the early stages, he thought that there were two explosions. Right now they're looking for someone - or maybe several people - who were caught on airport security cameras who dropped the bomber or the bombers off. And that's what the manhunt is sort of focused on now.
INSKEEP: And when you say a Kalashnikov, that brings another thought to mind. I'm now reminded, even more, of the Paris attacks that you covered last fall, in which some of the attacks were bombings and others were simply indiscriminate shootings of people.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's right. And those attacks marked the first time that suicide vests were actually used in Europe in this kind of attack, and that's why some officials are beginning to think that there might be some overlap.
INSKEEP: Now, is there a claim of responsibility for today's attacks in Brussels?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, ISIS has been - and there have been ISIS followers on social media who've been claiming responsibility all morning. But in terms of something concrete from the group that people think is definitive, we haven't seen that yet. I mean, when it comes to the Paris attacks, what eventually happened - and this happened only a couple of weeks ago - is ISIS released a video that showed the Paris attackers in Syria alive and training before the attack. So that was proof positive that ISIS was involved. The network in Brussels is thought to be related to that group, but nothing definitive has come from ISIS yet that suggests, for example, that they directed this attack from Raqqah or Syria.
INSKEEP: And it might have not been quite such a well-planned attack or quite such a thoroughly planned attack if this hypothesis that people have been laying out all morning is true. We've been talking about the fact that there was a terror arrest just a few days ago in Brussels. It's being presumed without evidence that perhaps there's a connection between that arrest and these attacks as some kind of retaliation, right?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I haven't been really hearing from my sources about retaliation. Instead, what I heard is that there were reports that Salah Abdeslam - the only known attacker to have survived the Paris attacks - after his arrest, there were reports that he was cooperating with authorities. So it's really possible that people who had been close to him were worried they'd been compromised. So something they were planning - this is a pretty sophisticated attack. Something they were planning, they launched before they might have otherwise.
INSKEEP: OK, Dina, thanks very much, really appreciate it.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Let's hear a couple more of the voices we've been hearing through this morning. Will McCants is with the Brookings Institution. He is the author of the book, "The ISIS Apocalypse." And he told us that today's attacks in Brussels, as well as November's attacks in Paris, mark a shift from previous attacks in European capitals.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
WILLIAM MCCANTS: After the attacks in the previous decade, the plotter's associates were quickly rounded up, and you didn't have subsequent attacks. Here, you had a major attack in Paris. One of the attackers was on the lam for months. And now, presumably, if it does turn out to be his network, they pulled off another major attack in another European capital. We have not seen a jihadist cell Europe available to pull off two different kinds of attacks in relatively quick succession in this way. Usually, the networks are rounded up and you don't hear from them again.
INSKEEP: We've also been talking with Mike Leiter, who is the former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center. And he says Europe has not seen so many coordinated attacks in more than a decade.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
MIKE LEITER: It's really only with the rise of ISIS in Syria and the attacks in Paris and now this attack that we've seen Western Europe facing such a concentrated, deadly and really sophisticated threat. And we're seeing the challenges of relatively open borders and a fractured intelligence system, which makes it very, very hard to detect and stop these attacks.
INSKEEP: Now let's talk to one of the people on the receiving end of today's attacks. Alexandros Koronakis is with the newspaper New Europe, which is based in Brussels. Welcome back to the program sir.
ALEXANDROS KORONAKIS: Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: What have the last few hours been like?
KORONAKIS: So the figures for the amount of people - the casualties - in the attacks has risen to 34, and the injuries are up to 150.
INSKEEP: That's according to Belgian authorities talking to your newspaper. Is that right?
KORONAKIS: Yes, that's right. The military troops and police that were on leave, taking vacation for their Easter holidays, have been - had their leave rescinded. And they're on their way back to Brussels. A lot of fire power is coming into Brussels to make sure that nothing like this happens in the subsequent days. Belgium has also declared three days of mourning subsequent to the attacks.
INSKEEP: I picture you there in the office, manning the phones, gathering information. Have you had a chance to get out of the office, walk around at all?
KORONAKIS: I have not. I sent out my reporters, who have done. And to be honest, they couldn't get very close to the scene of the attacks. Unless you were unlucky enough to have been at the metro or at the airport when this happened, there's no way to get close to these locations anymore. That said, people even five minutes away from these locations are still out and about on the streets. It's not a fearful city as you might expect after an attack like this.
INSKEEP: In just 30 or 40 seconds, what kinds of things are people saying to one another when you have a moment to take a breath or call home or anything else?
KORONAKIS: You know, there's a lot of solidarity coming in from outside Brussels, outside Belgium. Inside Belgium, people are I think struggling to believe what has happened. It's not - we don't have these dramatic images as we did in the Paris attacks of, you know, assailants with Kalashnikovs spraying crowds. We don't have that in Brussels, and that's been a lot more contained. And that's given the impression that things are a little bit safer than maybe they even are.
INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Koronakis, thank you very much, really appreciate you taking the time more than once today.
KORONAKIS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Alexandros Koronakis is with the newspaper New Europe. It is based in Brussels, Belgium, which was struck twice today. We at NPR News have been able to confirm more than two dozen people killed in a pair of attacks, one in an airport, another on a metro station. We just heard Mr. Koronakis citing Belgian authorities with a somewhat larger number. We can feel certain that many, many details will change. And you can feel certain that we will continue to bring you the latest as well as the best perspectives we can on this story.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.