tv America This Morning ABC March 22, 2016 4:00am-4:30am EDT
>> announcer: this is an abc news special report. good morning, everyone. i'm kendis gibson at abc news headquarters in new york city. >> and i'm lauren lyster. we're interrupting program with this breaking news coming in literally right now from belgium, brussels where the airport, the international airport there in brussels has been shaken by at least two explosions. reports say one of the blasts took place near the american airlines check-in desk and
dead, at least right now and several wounded. >> smoke can be seen rising from one of the terminals and we have abc's own alex marquardt who is there or on the way there to the airport on the phone. alex, can you tell us the latest of what we know right now? >> reporter: good morning, kendis and lauren. absolutely, the explosion taking place at the airport here at the main international airport here in brussels. it's what the airport spokeswoman is calling a double explosion. one right after the next around 8:00 in the morning, of course, that's peak travel time. people traveling all over the world and understand flights into brussels have been diverted away from brussels airport. that flights out of brussels have been canceled. it's still in the process of being evacuated from the departures hall where that took place. there were thousands of people taking flights this morning, leaving from the departure so the airport spokeswoman has said there were wounded.
that wounded and the federal police here have confirmed that at least one person has been killed. there are reports of a higher death toll but thus far nothing more is confirmed. we're on our way to the airport right now and understand the highways heading there, this is about ten miles outside of brussels are or have been blocked so the authorities have set up a perimeter around the airport and police on the scene and know that the fire services have also been evacuated. the photos that we've seen coming from the airport show dark plumes of smoke rising from that terminal, so right now it's unclear exactly what happened in terms of motive, cause of these explosions but it comes at an extremely sensitive time, just a few days after eighth paris
only surviving member of that terrorist group that carried out that attack was arrested. we spoke to a spokesman and they said the fear now is that arrest could trigger more attacks and said either more attacks could take place or of people on the ground and wait for the pressure to ease up. so, of course, right now the immediate fear is this is a terrorist attack. >> we were looking at some really gripping images coming on screen of the terminal. you can see many blown out windows and you also saw something fascinating. you saw hundreds of passengers, i would say, out there on the tarmac of that airport right now. obviously those folks are -- appear to not be injured but it is an interesting scene to see them out there. i'm told the airport has been evacuated and all the flights
in or out of the brussels airport. and, alex, i know you've been in brussels for the last few days, at least, what do you know of this airport? i imagine it's fairly popular because this is a capital for the eu and for nato. >> reporter: absolutely. this is a very important european capital. that's right. this is where the main european union offices are as well as nato and, of course, every major embassy is also here. this is also a country that has been on high alert for quite some time, especially since those attacks in paris in november where a number of the people came from brussels, remember the attackers from this neighborhood of molenbeek. they've sent more fighters per capita to isis. 5 you thousand or 6,000 jihadists fighting for them around 1,000 of them are belgian. so the great fear is obviously not only could some of those
out attacks but also that they could radicalize people who are already living here, someone like salah abdeslam who is now in police custody being held in a maximum security wing of a belgian prison. he never went to fight in iraq or syria but was radicalized enough to become a key member of that isis team that carried out the attacks so this is no small european airport we're talking about. this is a major international airport that services as you say not just an important country in europe, but dignitaries and officials traveling all over the world. this is a prime target for anyone who wants to disrupt europe and, of course, european officials have been warning for quite some time especially since november that more attacks are coming. they said it was not a question of if but a question of when. >> you know, alex, given that, i'm curious in the u.s. we're so used to the stepped up security
place after 9/11, what is it like there? you mentioned the city is on high alert. have security measures been stepped up at the airport? have there been responses to the attacks that we've seen in europe in the form of security and what passengers go through? >> reporter: the terror is alert is the second highest and has not yet been raised to -- [ audio trouble ] >> we're having a little breakup with your phone line. we should point out we're talking right now with abc's international correspondent alex marquardt who is on his way to the brussels airport right now from downtown brussels, about six miles north of the center of the city right now. reports started coming in within the last hour of two explosions in the departures hall at the airport. brussels is roughly six hour as head of the east coast of the u.s. so coming during morning
alex is back with us. alex, i can imagine as i mentioned this is during the morning rush hour. this is when many international flights from the u.s. might be arriving and a lot of people european destinations. >> reporter: absolutely, for example, there is a brussels to newark flight at 10:00 in the morning in about an hour but that's going to be one of the canceled this morning. we understand that all flights brussels. there were a few that were able to land after the attacks happened just after 8:00 in the morning. but otherwise all flights going out have been canceled and flights coming in have been diverted to other airports. now, just before i lost the signal there, you were asking me about the mood in brussels and whether it's brussels or france or other european capitals, everyone is keenly aware of the fact that the next attack is coming but they do try to go about their normal lives.
on edge and nervousness and inevitability but people do continue to try resiliently their normal lives but if you're in paris or brussels, you will see large numbers of police, security forces have been stepped up by the thousands since those attacks in november at the main tourist sites and sensitive targets like jewish facilities, jewish schools, jewish museums you will see the army out in the street so even if you're a tourist and having fun and taking pictures lurking in the background there is a heightened security presence that does remind you that this is -- these are countries, this is a continent that is still reeling from those nova tacks and is still very muchen edge. >> you know, as we speak there is a manhunt for a suspect linked to that terrorist attack. can you tell us a little about that and about just kind of what the sense is of where things stand with that manhunt investigation? >> reporter: right, so everyone
of salah abdeslam who was captured on friday but there is a very important suspect who is still out there. he was just named yesterday by the belgian authorities. his name is najim laachraoui. he was going by a pseudonym. he is 24 years old, we understand it. he hasn't been scene since late last year but his dna found in two safe houses linked to those isis attackers in belgium and most importantly in one of those safe houses they found the traces of explosives, specifically an explosive called tapt and that's the type used by the suicide bombers on november 13th in brussels in their suicide vests. it's an extremely complex explosive to make and that it's extremely volatile but very easy because the materials that are needed can be bought across -- can be bought over the counter and so there were traces of this
house where this -- we know this suspect to have been because of his dna so the think something that he is intricate to the bombmaking process, if not the bombmaker himself for not just the group of isis attackers that carried out the novaing thats that have all been -- are all now dead or behind bars, but the -- but the broader network of isis followers here in europe and that was one of the most important things to come out of arrest of salah abdeslam, we know he had a strong support network. that's the reason he was able to evade capture for four months but what the authorities are now saying that support network, that logistical network that kept him hidden and moved him around and get more supplies and more weapons, that that is broader and bigger than they originally thought and so, of course, that is also raising fears that even though someone like salah abdeslam can be captured and is now in prison,
>> once again this is an abc news special report. we're having continuing coverage right now, double explosions taking place in the capital of brussels, the international airport there located about six miles northeast of the center of the city and, alex, i've been to this airport. it is fairly small of an airport and there's several flights to the u.s. that were scheduled for this morning to be taking off just about now. you have a delta klm and air france scheduled to lever at 10:10. united airlines at 10 a.m. and one to jfk at 10:30 in the morning. brussels being six hours ahead of the east coast of the u.s. right now technically many of those passengers might have been checking in at the time of this blast. >> reporter: absolutely. i mean, this is not paris or london. this would be like philadelphia. it's a major european city, but
smaller than the biggest cities in the u.s. or in europe. and we have now actually gotten already just in the time that we've spoken with you that shows how close the airport is to the city we are already at the off-ramp to the airport. you can hear the sirens behind me but we have been stopped here. they are not letting anyone take the road off -- on towards the airport. the highway -- i'll let that car go past. the highway is almost at a standstill. a lot of traffic on this brussels ring road and a police car blocking the ramp and you can probably hear a police officer behind me shouting at cars to keep going. i'm with a group of other reporters, of course, we're all trying to reach the airport. but no one is being allowed through to the airport to that departures hall where the explosions took place this morning, except for emergency services. >> of course, we do want to stress we do not know the cause
brussels airport yet, so, you know, that's the context that we're bringing you this report from. i do want to ask, alex, you know, when we lost you, you were talking a little about how brussels is not or the airport at least is not on the highest alert as far as concerns around security but was on the second highest i believe is what you said so i'm just curious, what would people coming to the airport this morning be experiencing in the form of security? is it similar at all to the measures we have in place in the u.s. with tsa or is it more lax than that? what would people be dealing with? >> reporter: they would be very subtle differences compared to what you would have had, say, six months ago before the fears really grew. that's absolutely right. across belgium you have the second highest level, it's called alert level 3. they haven't yet raised it to alert level 4. the french, the belgians are very reluctant to scare the population. they don't want to rile everyone
what the measures that they put in place are simply beefed up security, both police and the military and that's the main difference that you're seeing now in the past four months is that it's not just the police who are out in the streets, not just the police at the airports but also seeing soldiers so everywhere you go whether it's the airport or downtown brussels, downtown paris even around the eiffel tower, the champs-elysees, you see patrolling soldiers holding their automatic weapons and getting ready, you know, should something happen. now, if you're somewhere else, like the middle east, that is a very common sight but to see this going on at some of europe's major tourist sites, it's really quite startling, so what departing tourists and passengers would have seen this morning an increased security in terms of the patrols an the airport but other than that, the security, the tsa equivalent, if you will, would essentially at
what they would have experienced usually. >> and once again you're taking a look at some of the images coming in shortly after these explosions. you actually have passengers in an area we're not familiar with. they are on the tarmac there at the brussels international airport. the airport was evacuated shortly after these dual explosions took place earlier this morning. we are told right now that all flights have been canceled for the day at the brussels airport and you can understand why that is the case. abc's alex marquardt has just arrived at the airport. alex, we hear the sirens. describe to us some of the images, some of the smells you're experiencing right now. >> reporter: so we're a few hundred yards away. i'll let these emergency cars go past. that was just two police suvs that went screaming past. got a quick glimpse of the folks inside.
heavily armed going towards the airport. the emergency services, the police, the fire trucks are the only ones who are now being allowed towards the airport. we are on the main highway. it is essentially bumper to bumper, standstill traffic because no one is being allowed to pull off to go to the airport. that's why most of the people would be coming out on this road at this time. but there's a series of cones set up and no one especially not reporters are being allowed towards the airport even on foot. so we've got a lot of traffic, a lot of noise because of all the sirens and cars heading toward the airport and heard them in downtown brussels all the way out to the airport so a lot of commotion this morning, of course, a lot of questions, when there are two explosions that take place at a major european airport, the first assumption is going to be this is terrorism. we should remind our viewers that the belgian authorities have not yet declared that. what they've said is there were two explosions, there are
they have confirmed that one person has been killed. but they have not given any higher news. there are other numbers floating out there for now, but the evacuation of the passengers from that departures hall is taking place and in the meantime, emergency services are keeping everyone else away from the airport. >> alex, for people just now tuning in and maybe just getting up to speed with the story, give us a little bit of the sense of the context and timing of when this happened. this comes in the wake of the arrest of the suspect in the paris attacks, salah abdeslam, and another manhunt is under way. >> reporter: well, for the past few days authorities have been patting themselves on the back for having captured salah abdeslam, who is known as eighth paris attacker. this is a 26-year-old french man who grew up in belgium who was the only survivor of those paris attacks. everyone else was either killed or killed themselves and in the
revelations was abdeslam said he was supposed to kill himself that day, but decided not to. whether he got cold feet, we don't know but he said that he backed out and so everyone has been focused on this, if you will, the authorities' triumphant moment of taking him down and arresting him and trying to figure out what information can be gleaned from him but it goes without saying that this is a coup but he is not a pivotal figure in the isis organization. a guy who did not go to fight in iraq or syria. he was a soldier for isis and so the fear now is there are thought only fighters, europeans which there are thousands in iraq and syria coming back to carry out and plan attacks but also homegrown jihadists people like salah abdeslam who are willing to take up arms and carry out attacks and wreak havoc.
is telling their fighters, don't just carry out big symbolic attacks like paris where they targeted a very famous landmarks, strategic locations, they're saying carry them out wherever you can, kill whoever you can so what intelligence officials expect to see in the coming months and years really are different types of attacks, sporadic attacks, anything that can sauce any sort of disruption, anything that can cause any sort of fear and so, of course, this is a country, these are countries, this is a continent that is still very much reeling from those paris attacks, very afraid for the next attack, knowing that it could come soon. of course, we don't know what has happened today but that's the mood here is that everyone is going to immediately assume that this is linked if not directly then certainly indirectly to this broader mission of isis and other jihadists to carry out attacks in europe.
of the images you're seeing right now are new to us, at least since we've come on air. you can see the impact of this explosion right now and as you can tell from some of the shooting a lot of it is raw. these are the scene, people have evacuated the airport terminal getting on to the road outside the airport and a shot that showed a building that said brussels airport. based on my memory of being there that's pretty much it. it's a relatively small airport and a relatively small building, so if there were people in that departure area at the time they no doubt heard or may have been impacted in this and a quick roundup of some of the tweets coming from the brussels airport they're saying that passengers are still located in other areas of the airport and asked to remain calm and wait for further information. nothing yet from the u.s. embassy located there in belgium, nothing from american airlines or united airlines, both of which have flights
alex, no doubt we expect to hear from them soon. >> and we're seeing pictures of emergency crews responding. people emotional reacting to the situation there. we've seen crowds that appear calm with people trying to figure out where they're supposed to go next. >> and, alex, i should point out i know you're not aware of this. the terror level has just been raised there in belgium. what do you think of that? >> reporter: yeah, i just saw that, as well so now we are at the terror level 4 which as you noticed is the highest level. so that's the clearest indication yet that we've gotten from the authorities that they believe this to, indeed, ab a terrorist attack trying to keep people calm at this point but when you have two explosions that go off amid thousands of people in the departures area at one of europe's main airports, obviously the assumption is this is terrorism. now they are basically acknowledging that by raising this terror level to 4, according to belgian television,
to be a press conference in about 40 minutes, and so hopefully we will get some answers from them now. i should note that we are on foot heading towards the airport. there is a blockade checkpoint for cars, but we are hoping to get closer to the airport and get a bit more information. you asked about the mood earlier, what was the sights and sounds. there is a heavy stench of burning in the air. it smells like burning tires. this is a very chaotic scene as you can hear behind me, lots of sirens, lots of people trying to figure out where to go. lots of confusion and i'm looking now at a family of travelers clearly walking away from the airport. they like thousands of others this morning are not -- were not able to take their flight out but in many ways it sounds like
because they were not wounded. we do know that there were wounded this morning. we don't have a number for that and the latest death toll as we understand it from the belgian authorities is confirmed at one. but it could be higher. >> and, alex, with the terror threat being raised to the highest level of alert can you give us any sense of how that impacts brussels and the city more broadly today? >> reporter: well, it's not that it will paralyze it but it will certainly wreak havoc. this is an airport that not just travelers and regular people use but this is -- this is a city that is home to nato, to the european union, to, of course, every major country's embassy, in fact, the u.s. has three ambassadors here, one for nato, one for the eu and one for belgium and so that just gives you a sense of the importance. this might be a second tier city
of importance, it is absolutely crucial. this is often referred to as the capital of europe and so by paralyzing the airport, you're certainly going to cause business to slow down and travel plans to be disrupted but more than anything, if this indeed was an attack, it shows that the people out there who want to carry out these sorts of attacks are able to go after one of the most sensitive and high security locations in the country. >> and, yeah, and that really is a good reminder that how important of a capital this is. this airport only sees about 23 million people in traffic each year, but they're very key individuals flying through that airport. it is home to the european union capital and also nato operations out of belgium, as well. alex, at a level 4, any idea what that means, are there more checkpoints or what? >> reporter: i don't know exactly.
mean is more police, more military out in the streets, a lot more people being deployed, more checkpoints, people being -- people being search add cross the city. i mean this is -- when a city like this goes into its highest alert level, you now will visibly see what might have been security forces who were in the shadows who were being very subtle suddenly coming out in a show of force. they were be extremely visible, for example, in brussels, the main tourist attraction is the center square. like times square so i imagine what's happening right now they're setting up a perimeter around that. it will be controlling people looking at the people who are going in, looking at their i.d.s and purses and bags and that sort of thing so what might have been a more laid back but heightened sense of security is now going to be a lot more
>> one of the troubling things about these, while you did have dual explosions here oftentimes as you know you covered the attacks in paris, that's not the end of it. there's usually a cell somewhere else that might be operating. >> reporter: right and the belgian authorities have said since they captured salah abdeslam, the last paris attacker and have been interrogating him, whether he has admitted or discovered evidence on their own, they've said that the network around him that was not just hiding him and moving him around but that was collecting more weapons, ammunition and planning more attacks is a lot bigger and sophisticated than they originally thought so even with his capture, the assumption was not that, you know, this was stopping any sort of attacks but that more could happen. >> and for those of us who -- the viewers at home just tuning in let's bring them up to speed
airport around 8 a.m. this morning local time there was a double explosion at the airport in the departure hall. people have been wounded. one has reportedly been killed. all we know at this point. we do not know what the cause of the attack is but belgian authorities have raised the level of alert to the maximum level in the wake of this -- these explosions, rather, there are two. we're on the phone with abc's alex marquardt who has covered extensively what has been going on in belgium, including the recent arrest of salah abdeslam, who was arrested in brussels very recently. he is a prime suspect in the paris attacks and there's also a manhunt under way for another suspected accomplice so, alex, where are you now? you were trying to get closer to the airport from a perimeter where you had been stopped in your car. you were surrounded by media and as you've been moving you're starting to have smells of smoke in the air, with that explosion
where are you now and what are you seeing? >> reporter: well, the reason you're probably hearing a little less except for this ambulance flying past right now is that there are no more cars around me. we've gotten out of the car and walking towards the airport to see how close we can get to see if there's anything else that we can actually see by -- the highway -- the roads around the airport are completely empty. there's no more traffic because no one has been allowed in. our car was stopped from going in and so that's why we are on foot. lauren, i should note, the belgian authorities have not confirmed this yet but there are reports in the belgian media of a possible third explosion at a metro station, a subway station in brussels. in a place called malbec but it is being reported quite widely
the fear attacks but not just in the city but across europe. attacks happening in brussels, london, paris, simultaneously, so if there are reports now coming out of a third explosion obviously will immediately raise fears this is a coordinated attack that is under way. that, of course, is similar to what we saw in paris in november with at the bataclan theatre and the biggest soccer stadium and elsewhere around paris. it's still early yet but they're reporting a third explosion at a subway station. >> that would be a headliner right now. we had reports of two explosion explosions. you can see the damage at the airport and roughly about an hour and a half ago, about 9:30
alex, you're reporting local immediate media reporting another explosion near the heart of brussels at this hour. of course, we haven't con firmed that but would go toward the sort of attacks that we've had before with these coordinated terror attacks in paris. >> reporter: it looks like it's bigger than that. i'm looking at reporting from rtf, the belgian public television station. it's like the bbc and they are confirming three explosions at three different subway stations in brussels so that would be in addition to the two at the airport this morning bring it up to a total of five at four different locations, the three subway stations in brussels, they are call maalbeek and schuman which is near the seat of the european union. if these are confirmed then i