03/22/2016, 18.21
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Brussels attacks: pope close to the victims, condemns blind violence

Francis issues a message. Al-Azhar slams attacks that "violate the tolerant teachings of Islam". Explosions at the airport and a metro station kill 34 and wound almost 200 people. “For 20 minutes we just stood there, not knowing what to do . . . There was nothing, neither police nor ambulances,” says Lebanese witness.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – This morning explosions occurred in the Belgian capital of Brussels, at the airport and a metro station.

Reacting to the event, Pope Francis expressed his closeness in prayer to those who lost their life in today’s attacks and reiterated his condemnation of the "blind violence" that causes so much pain.

The pontiff’s message, from Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin to the Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, Mgr Jozef De Kesel, reads:

“Learning of the attacks in Brussels, which have affected many people, His Holiness Pope Francis entrusts to God's mercy those who died and he prays for those who have lost relatives. He expresses his deepest sympathy to the injured and their families, and all those who contribute to relief efforts, asking the Lord to bring them comfort and consolation in this ordeal. The Holy Father again condemns the blind violence which causes so much suffering and imploring from God the gift of peace, he entrusts on the bereaved families and the Belgians the benefit of divine blessings.”

Sunni Islam's leading seat of learning, Al-Azhar, also issued a statement condemning Tuesday's attacks in Brussels, which "violate the tolerant teachings of Islam".

This morning, two explosions occurred at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, one near a US airliner check-in desk. According to Belgian Minister of Health, Maggie de Block, 14 dead were killed and 81 wounded. An hour later, another blast hit the Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, close to the headquarters of the European Commission and the European Council, with 20 dead and more than a hundred wounded.

Belgian authorities responded by locking down the city’s main transport venues. The airport has been closed with consequences for air traffic in much of Europe, and so has the city’s metro and bus service. Vehicular traffic is almost at a standstill, as armoured vehicles took up position in the city’s streets.

One witness to the unfolding events was Kassem, a Lebanese researcher who was at the airport ready to leave.

"I arrived at 7:50 am. The explosion occurred 10 minutes later, in the departures hall. I did not understand immediately what was happening. Everyone started to scream. I saw a section of the ceiling collapse. We did not realise right away that it was a bomb. We started to run towards the exit, pushing each other.

“When I got out there was a second explosion, more powerful; shattered glass began falling on us. Outside everyone was in shock. I saw people crying, screaming; I could see the wounded. For 20 minutes we just stood there, not knowing what to do . . . There was nothing, neither police nor ambulances.

“We started walking, went down into the parking lot, following one another. No one gave us directions. Afterwards, police, soldiers, and ambulances began arriving. They continued the evacuation and blocked access to the airport."

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