BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium tightened security even more on Wednesday to counter fears that lone attackers could strike anywhere and at any time, a day after a failed bombing by a man shouting “Allahu akbar” at a Brussels train station put the nation on edge.
A soldier killed the attacker, who had tried to set off a powerful nail bomb that could have led to fatalities among the two dozen or so travelers checking train times on a public display board at Brussels Central Station on Tuesday, officials said.
Similar attacks by lone assailants causing maximum mayhem but few victims have also happened in London and Paris in the past couple of days, putting European capitals on alert on the eve of the busy summer tourist season.
The Brussels attacker was a 36-year-old Moroccan national not known to authorities for being involved in terror activities, federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt told reporters. He declined to say if the man had a criminal record.
The man charged soldiers at Brussels Central Station after his suitcase, containing nails and gas canisters, failed to fully explode, Van der Sypt said. The man then shouted “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before a soldier shot him dead, the magistrate said. Nobody else was injured.
“It was clear he wanted to cause much more damage than what happened,” Van der Sypt said. “The bag exploded twice but it could have been a lot worse.” Witness Remy Bonnaffe had just walked away from the timetable board when he heard a loud bang and saw a flame while he was on his phone. Still unsure whether it was an attack, he took time to take a photo but dashed off when he heard a second blast and shots.
“There must have been some 20, 30 people spread around the screens there,” Bonnaffe said in an interview with The Associated Press, painting an image of the scope of carnage that could have happened. Van der Sypt said the man was from the Molenbeek neighborhood, the home and transit point for many of the suspects linked to attacks in Brussels and in Paris in November 2015. On Wednesday, hooded police and forensic officers raided a home in the neighborhood and left with bags full of evidence.
Belgium has been on high alert since suicide bombers killed 32 people at the Brussels airport and a subway station on March 22, 2016. Security remained high around rail facilities and preparations were underway to beef up security for a Coldplay concert at the 50,000-seat King Baudouin Stadium later Wednesday.
“In three years we have been confronted with several attacks or attempts and we say the zero risk does not exist,” Prime Minister Charles Michel said after a specially-convened security meeting. Central Station re-opened Wednesday morning. A mobile police command unit and several officers were still at the station, an Associated Press photographer said.
Burn marks remained on the floor at the scene, as workers continued to clean up and paint the area. Belgium’s Crisis Center said Wednesday that it sees no need to raise the national security alert level, which has been on its second-highest rung for more than a year. It said that no public events would be canceled but that additional police and troops have been mobilized.
Virginia Mayo in Brussels contributed to this report.