Tuesday 6 December 2016

Brussels Airport services set to resume following terror attacks

Published 03/04/2016 | 04:01

Police officers secure a zone as a man looks out of his window in the Molenbeek neighborhood in Brussels, Belgium (AP)
Police officers secure a zone as a man looks out of his window in the Molenbeek neighborhood in Brussels, Belgium (AP)

A partial service is scheduled to begin on Sunday at Brussels Airport after a 12-day shutdown in the wake of the deadly March 22 terror attacks.

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Airport CEO Arnaud Feist said the "largely symbolic" Brussels Airlines flights - to Athens in Greece, Turin in Italy and Faro in Portugal - should begin at 1pm BST.

From Monday, Belgium's biggest airport should be back at around 20% of capacity and able to process 800 passengers an hour.

It has been closed since devastating suicide bombings in the airport's main terminal and a Brussels subway train killed 32 people and wounded 270 on March 22.

Speaking at a joint news conference, Mr Feist called the resumption "a sign of hope" and a demonstration of "shared will" that even partial passenger service could resume so soon following what he called "the darkest days in the history of aviation in Belgium".

He said he was expecting the formal go-ahead from the Belgian government later on Saturday.

The March 22 attacks, in which three suicide bombers also died, were claimed by the Islamic State group (IS).

To minimise the chances of a repeat incident, Belgian federal police spokesman Michael Jonniaux said new security measures have been ordered at the airport, including spot checks of vehicles before they arrive, the closing of a drop-off parking area outside the terminal, and the screening of all people, their ID and travel documents and baggage before they are allowed to enter the facility.

The bombers were able to enter the airport's check-in area with suitcases packed with high explosives and nails, and the resulting blasts collapsed the ceiling, shattered windows and caused immense damage.

Until the terminal can be fully repaired, Mr Feist said departing passengers will first enter a temporary structure erected on the tarmac, then go to a specially-built area for check-in.

There will be no access by rail or public transport to the airport for the foreseeable future, he said.

Brussels Airport, which usually handles about 600 flights a day, served about 1.5 million people in February, the month preceding the attack. Mr Feist said he hopes full service can be restored by the end of June or beginning of July in time for the summer holiday season.

Also on Saturday, Belgian police, some on horseback, moved in to detain some two dozen protesters at Brussels' Bourse Square, breaking up a demonstration in protest over Islamophobia.

Authorities in the Belgian capital, fearing violent disorders, banned all demonstrations after a group of right-wing hooligans congregated at the same square last Sunday.

In the Molenbeek neighbourhood, where a far-right France-based group had planned to demonstrate, at least one person was detained, and witnesses saw several minor clashes between police and young people.

Molenbeek, home to one of the largest Muslim communities in Brussels, has been a hotbed of radical Islamic sentiment and was home to some of the men who staged the November 13 attacks in Paris which killed 130, and were also claimed by IS.

The Belgian federal prosecutor's office announced that a Belgian national has been charged with participating in the activities of a terrorist group for his alleged role in another plot to attack France, which was uncovered after the arrest of a Frenchman and the discovery of a huge cache of weapons and explosives.

A statement from the prosecutor's office on Saturday identified the 33-year-old Belgian suspect only as YA. It said he is in custody, and has been charged in the case that stemmed from the arrest of Reda Kriket in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt last week.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said an "imminent" attack had been thwarted with Kriket's arrest and the discovery of the explosives stash in suburban Argenteuil outside Paris.

A third man was arrested in Rotterdam in the case, which officials say is separate from the attacks in Paris and Brussels.

Press Association

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