Belgian police say situation at Brussels Central under control with no other casualties after apparent attempt to detonate explosive belt.
A suspected terrorist was shot dead by soldiers in one of Brussels’ main railway stations on Tuesday night after what police described as a small explosion.
Officers believe the man was wearing an explosive belt and a witness at Brussels Central station reportedly heard the man call out “Allahu Akbar” – “God is great” in Arabic – before the blast.
Police quickly announced they had the situation under control.
“This is considered as a terrorist attack,” said the federal prosecutor’s office spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt. “The suspect has been neutralised by the military that were present at the scene immediately after the explosion,” he said. “He is dead.”
Van Der Sypt said the prosecutor’s office still had “no idea” of the suspect’s identity.
There were no other casualties in the incident.
Nicolas Van Herrewegen, a railway sorting agent who was in the station as the incident unfolded, said: “I went down to the mezzanine level. Someone was shouting. Then he cried: ‘Allahu Akbar’ and he blew up a trolley.
“I was behind a wall when it exploded. I went down and alerted my colleagues to evacuate everyone. [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. People were running away.”
According to the Belgian newspaper La Libre, the man detonated a device after he attracted the attention of soldiers who were patrolling the station.
After the incident, which took place at about 8.30pm on Tuesday, the station and the nearby historic downtown area, including the Grand Place, were partly evacuated as police set up a security cordon.
The Belgian government’s crisis centre said bomb disposal experts had been sent to the scene and a controlled explosion was possible.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Brussels police confirmed that only one person had been involved. A police spokesman told Reuters: “There was an incident at Central station. There was an explosion around a person. That person was neutralised by the soldiers that were on the scene. At the moment, the police are in numbers at the station and everything is under control.”
The prime minister, Charles Michel, and interior minister, Jan Jambon, were following the situation very closely from the government’s crisis centre, a spokesman said.
Michel thanked the soldiers and security service and rail operator personnel for “their professionalism and their courage”.
The Grand Place is one Brussels’ most popular tourist destinations. The beautiful gothic square is a five-minute walk from the Central station and would have been thronged with people on a warm midsummer night. In the nearby Galeries St-Hubert, a 19th-century arcade of shops and cafes, people stayed indoors.
Brussels Central station is at the heart of the capital, as well as of Belgium’s rail network. After the incident, a security perimeter was put in place.
The metro, which passes under the station, was not stopping there and the Belgian national rail operator, the SNCB, said services were not stopping at Brussels Central, Midi and Nord stations.
“A crowd panicked in the station and ran for the tracks after an incident,” a spokesman said.
The Belgian capital has been on high alert for more than 18 months, since Brussels-based Islamic State militants carried out attacks in Paris that killed 130 people in November 2015, then bombed Brussels airport and the city’s metro in March last year, killing 32 people.
Two suicide bombers killed 16 at the airport and, moments later, a suicide bomb at Maelbeek subway station killed another 16.
Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by Isis and several of those involved in the bloodshed were directly linked to the November attacks in Paris, also claimed by Isis, which left 130 dead and were planned in Brussels.