1st Passenger Flight Departs From Brussels Airport Since Deadly Terror Attacks
The first passenger jet has departed Brussels Airport since the terror attacks that struck 12 days ago — a symbolic step toward normalcy in the Belgian capital.
A moment of silence was observed Sunday at the airport shortly before a Brussels Airlines flight departed at 1:40 p.m. (7.40 a.m. ET) for Faro, Portugal.
Two other Brussels Airlines passenger flights — to Turin, Italy, and Athens, Greece — were scheduled to depart Sunday as the airport slowly begins resuming regular operations in the wake of the March 22 bombings. The suicide bombing attacks on the airport and a Brussels subway station killed 32 people; the terror group ISIS claimed responsibility.
“These flights are the first hopeful sign from an airport that is standing up straight after a cowardly attack,” airport CEO Arnaud Feist said Saturday.
Further flights will be added in coming days, Feist said. Cargo flights resumed at the airport more than a week ago.
The move comes after days of negotiations between airport and police officials on new security arrangements at the airport, which is operating a temporary departure hall in place of the facility damaged in the attacks.
For the first few days of its opening, the airport will be accessible only by car — not public transport buses or trains, Feist said.
Because of the enhanced security measures — which include screening of passengers and their vehicles on the access road approaching the airport — travelers are being advised to arrive at least three hours before their scheduled departure.
The facility’s reopening comes a day after police arrested 140 people over attending illegal demonstrations and gatherings in the city.
City officials prohibited demonstrations in Brussels this weekend after a far-right group announced plans for an anti-Islam rally Saturday in Molenbeek, a heavily immigrant Brussels neighborhood with links to a number of attackers in recent terror plots.
In response, an anti-racism group called for a counterdemonstration in the same area.
The far-right protest was called off, but anti-racism protesters gathered Saturday in Molenbeek and began marching toward the city center, where police in riot gear pushed them back.
Police said arrests were also made at a gathering in Place de la Bourse in central Brussels, which has become home to an unofficial memorial commemorating the victims of the terror attacks.
Police have been anxious to avoid a repeat of the chaotic scenes that unfolded March 27 when hundreds of far-right demonstrators gathered in the Place de la Bourse, shouting anti-immigrant slogans. Authorities used water cannons to clear the protesters, some of whom were filmed giving Nazi salutes.
Police said those arrested Saturday face charges for failing to follow orders to disperse and other administrative offenses.
Arrest linked to a French plot
Also Saturday, Belgian officials announced an arrest in one of the terror investigations connecting their nation and France.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said investigators have detained and charged a 33-year-old man with being part of a terror group.
It’s not clear what the allegations are against the man or even his identity. He’s identified only as a Belgian national with the initials Y.A. in the prosecutor’s statement.
His case is connected with that of Reda Kriket, 32, a French citizen indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy to commit a terrorism act, possession of false documents, weapons possession and manufacturing of explosives.
French police arrested Kriket on March 24 in Boulogne-Billancourt, just west of Paris, then raided an apartment not far away in Argenteuil. They found a large weapons cache and bomb-making materials there, French prosecutor Francois Molins said.
A Belgian court already had found Kriket guilty in absentia and sentenced him to 10 years in prison for being part of a jihadist network, according to Belgian court documents.
Authorities haven’t given any indication that Y.A. or Kriket had any direct involvement in the Brussels bombings.
Nor is any connection publicly known between the two men and the November terror attacks that left 130 dead and hundreds more wounded.
The Paris attackers had close ties to Belgium, with many having lived in the capital.