Two explosions rocked the check-in zone of Brussels Airport on Tuesday, while another explosion shook a metro station in the Belgian capital, killing and wounding scores of people.
What we know
- The casualties: At least 31 people were killed and more than 270 wounded in the attacks. An American couple who were at the airport are missing.
- The suspects: ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, believed to have been carried out by at least two people, brothers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui. A manhunt is on for a third suspect, Najim Laachraoui.
Here's the latest:
Live Blog: Brussels Attacks
The chaos and confusion that accompanied the deadly terror attacks in Brussels continues to make it difficult for loved ones overseas to confirm contact with their families.
American couple Justin and Stephanie Shults are one example: After the pair went missing for more than 24 hours following the attack, a family member said on social media that they had been located — but that was only false hope.
Justin Shults' brother, Levi Sutton, tweeted later Wednesday that he shared the news online based on incorrect information from the U.S. State Department.
"Obviously we want Justin and Stephanie to come home," Sutton wrote. "I apologize for the misinformation that was given to my family."
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Najim Laachraoui, a suspected bomb-maker who was thought to have escaped amid the deadly terror attacks in Brussels, is now believed to have been one of the two suicide bombers who died at the city's airport, intelligence sources told NBC News.
Those sources are certain the 24-year-old was killed in the explosion Tuesday — although initial reports Wednesday indicated he was still wanted.
Just a day before the Brussels attack, Laachraoui was named by officials who urged the public to help in the search for him, saying he had ties to last November's ISIS-claimed terror siege in Paris. Laachraoui is believed to have constructed the suicide vests used by the Paris terrorists after his DNA was found on all of them, a French police official told The Associated Press.
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Restaurants, trains, hospitals, shopping malls — they offer the kind of unsecured access where terrorists can easily blend in and perpetrate an act of mass murder.
Such "soft targets" have worried American security experts, officials and lawmakers for years — and the attacks in Brussels exposed just how vulnerable they are.
"If you have a determined terrorist who is willing to give up their life," said John Pistole, a former administrator with the Transportation Security Administration, "it's almost impossible to prevent that across the board."
Previous terror attacks — including those in London, Paris and San Bernardino — were designed "to make us believe that we are always going to be in such grave and imminent danger that we actually have to stop what we're doing," Secretary of State John Kerry told the State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council after the attack in Paris.
The point, Kerry added, was to "sow terror."
Real full story here.
President Barack Obama has admonished Republican residential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz's call to "secure Muslim neighborhoods," saying the plan "makes no sense."
Speaking in Argentina, Obama described American Muslims as "successful, patriotic" and "integrated."
"Any approach that would target them for discrimination is not only wrong and un-American, but counter-productive," he said.
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Normally, Brabanthal Hall is a spot for "great events," Leuven Police spokeswoman Stephanie Gille told NBC News.
But in the aftermath of Tuesday's attacks, the massive event space east of Brussels was transformed into a makeshift shelter for more than 1,000 airline passengers stranded when the city's airport — the site of one of the attacks — canceled flight service until Friday.
Not everyone was comfortable.
"I felt like a refugee," said Jacek Makowski, whose flight to Madrid was canceled. "Only cold water, no showers, you can only brush your teeth — nothing more. ... It's good to have a place to stay overnight but it wasn't comfortable."
While noting that the Tuesday night passed without incident — and that most people were simply glad to be safe — Gille acknowledged as much.
"After one day and a half in this shelter they are fed with it and they just want to home," she said.
Emel Sasaki, 16, was about to embark on a year-long study abroad program in Japan when two blasts rocked the check-in zone of Brussels Airport on Tuesday morning.
"It's a miracle I'm still alive," Sasaki said, recalling that she was standing about 20 meters from where the first of two bombs exploded.
"We were blown away and the ceiling collapsed. It fell all on us, " Sasaki told NBC News. "I was on the ground. I couldn't get up."
With the help of her mom, Sasaki was able to stand. They ran toward the exit.
Sasaki's mom and sister suffered minor cuts. Sasaki lost her hearing temporarily after the blast, and she still has not gotten her full hearing back in her right ear.
'So many people lying next to me were badly wounded and full of blood," she said. "So horrifying!"
As for Japan: "It has been my dream for 3 years to study abroad in a foreign country. But now I'm hesitating because my mom is scared and terrified that something like this will happen again."
The State Department confirmed Wednesday that at least a dozen U.S. citizens were injured in the Belgian terrorist attacks — but so far there have been no confirmed American deaths.
"We must emphasize that a number of U.S. citizens remain unaccounted for and the Kingdom of Belgium has not yet released nationality information for reported fatalities," State said in a statement. "Our own internal U.S. government accountability is ongoing, and we are making every effort to account for the welfare of both Chief of Mission personnel and U.S. citizens in the city."
The government weighed in as an American couple — Justin and Stephanie Shults — remained missing more than 24 hours after the deadly blasts in Brussels.
Among the injured Americans are three Mormon missionaries from Utah and a U.S. serviceman and members of his family.
An FBI official says some personnel from the U.S. are being sent to Brussels, although they won't be doing any investigative work.
Instead, the FBI personnel will help out in the Legal Attache office in the U.S. Embassy there. This is similar to what the FBI did after last year's attacks in Paris.
The FBI has Legal Attache offices in most of the world's larger U.S. embassies.
A French cartoonist's touching tribute to the solidarity between France and Belgium — two nations marred by terror attacks — has gone viral.
The drawing, penned by cartoonist Jean Plantureux, who goes by Plantu, shows a person draped in a French flag with an arm around another individual wrapped in a Belgian flag. Both have a tear streaming down their cheeks, and beneath each of them is the date of the attacks in their respective countries: Nov. 13 and March 22.
French newspaper Le Monde tweeted the cartoon Wednesday morning. It has since been retweeted more than 27,000 times, with some Twitter users adding the hashtag #UnisContreLaBarbarie — "united against barbarism." Others are using #JeSuisBruxelles, or "I am Brussels," a variation on the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie that emerged after the January 2015 massacre at the office of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Plantu commemorated that tragedy with a powerful cartoon that also quickly spread around the world: A hand writing the phrase "De tout coeur avec Charlie Hebdo," or "wholeheartedly with Charlie Hebdo," on a piece of paper, in ink that looked like blood.
Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel posted photos on Twitter of a nation in mourning.
"United to commemorate the victims of yesterday's atrocious attacks. United to fight terror," he wrote, along with photos of Belgians observing a moment of silence Wednesday.
In the immediate aftermath of the brazen attacks, Michel proclaimed unity against terrorism:
He told reporters on Tuesday, "In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity."
Swipe tests show the Brussels attackers used ammonium nitrate bombs, two sources tell NBC News. The explosives were estimated at 44 pounds each.
Ammonium nitrate is a relatively stable high explosive, detonating at a speed of more than 5,000 feet per second. It is used as a key component of ANFO (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil), a popular industrial explosive.
The chemical was also used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Ammonium nitrate is a widely used fertilizer, too. It was manufactured by the plant that exploded in West, Texas, in 2013, killing 15 people and hurting more than 200 others.
NBC News' Elizabeth Chuck contributed to this report.
Pope Francis on Wednesday offered prayers to the "dear people of Belgium" and expressed solidarity with families of people killed and hurt in the horrific blasts.
"I renew an appeal to all people of good will to unite in the unanimous condemnation of these cruel abominations that have only caused death, terror and horror," Francis said.
The pope asked for prayers to "comfort the hearts of the afflicted and to convert the hearts of those people taken in by cruel fundamentalism."
BRUSSELS — Dozens of young people gathered Wednesday to pay tribute to one of their peers who died during the attack on the Brussels metro subway train.
Leopold Hecht was studying law at the Universite Saint Louis in Brussels, a classmate who had known him since high school told NBC News.
"It's so unjust," said the friend, who declined to give his name. "He was brilliant, kind."
Another added that Hecht had not "survived his injuries" sustained during the attack on the Belgian capital's Maalbeek metro station, which reportedly killed 20 people and injured dozens more.
The group of around 100 people stood in silence, many leaning on friends as newcomers arrived to light small candles at a small memorial. Only sniffles and the sound of passing cars could be heard.
In the wake of the Brussels attacks, Sen. Bernie Sanders said that the fight against ISIS must be led by Muslim nations.
"We can win that war and destroy ISIS without getting the brave men and women in the U.S. armed forces into a perpetual war in the Middle East," he added.
Utah Missionary Injured in Brussels Attack in Medical Coma; Family Thanks Doctors
An American missionary who suffered shrapnel and burn injuries in the terror attack on a Brussels airport Tuesday has been placed in a medically induced coma and is expected to face a lengthy recovery, his family said.
The family of Richard Norby, a missionary in Paris, thanked the medical staff who treating the 66-year-old member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and said their thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives or were injured.
"Our prayers go out to all those who were affected by this terrible tragedy and wish for the speedy recovery of all the wounded bystanders," the Norby family said in a statement.
Richard Norby suffered shrapnel wounds and second-degree burns as well as "more severe trauma from shrapnel to his lower leg," his family said. He underwent a lengthy surgery Tuesday and is expected to be in a coma for several days.
Norby was one three missionaries from Utah who were injured in the explosion at the Brussels Airport. At least 31 people were killed in the attacks at the airport and in an explosion at a Maalbeek metro station. A fourth missionary from France who was with the group suffered what were described as minor injuries.
Terrorist groups are "continuing to plan near-term attacks" across Europe, the State Department warned Tuesday in a travel alert.
Citing the attacks in Brussels, the alert said that unspecified groups were targeting "sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation."
The alert expires June 20.
"U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation," the alert says. "Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places. Exercise particular caution during religious holidays and at large festivals or events."
The department advised U.S. citizens to monitor local media, keep in contact with family and prepare for additional security and disruptions.
Signs of mourning are apparent throughout Brussels — from the flags flown at half-mast to electronic billboards scrolling through tweets of solidarity about the attacks, marked by #JeSuisBruxelles.
Hundreds of Bruxellois gathered outside the iconic Bourse late Tuesday, chalking messages of support on the sidewalk in front of the landmark. Some formed hearts with tea lights while others added to a growing memorial of flags, flowers and tributes.
The memorial was Belgian in every way — from the flags propped in Trappist beer bottles to the young people quietly eating the city's famous "frites" (french fries) on the stairs of the Bourse under a banner reading "United Against Hatred."
Gwendoline Pereira and her boyfriend Kevin Ferelol stood arm in arm at the top of the stairs, silently taking in the scene below.
"This affects us all, Pereira, 21, told NBC News. "It affects everyone... It could hit anyone or anywhere. We're very emotional."
She and Ferelol, 22, recently moved to Brussels from France — a country that too has been rocked by recent acts of devastating terrorism.
The attacks show "we're not safe anywhere, " Ferelol said. "In France, the U.S., here.. We never would have believed it."
Coming to the Bourse to pay tribute has been cathartic and symbolic for them, the couple said.
"We were home all day and to see all the people here — it helps us," Pereira said.
"It's a symbol — to be here and show protest," Ferelol added. "It's a way to say we're still here."
Among the hundreds of people gathered around makeshift memorials at the Bourse in Brussels, one man stood out.
The arrival of Belgium's Interior Minister Jan Jambon created a buzz in the somber atmosphere. Like many, he said he came to declare solidarity with all those affected by the attacks Tuesday morning.
"These attacks is really a disaster for our country," he told NBC News.
Authorities were still searching for at least one suspect linked to the attacks, and Jambon acknowledged the fear linked to a potential terrorist on the loose.
"I can understand that people are scared," he said. "But I can say that all our services are now in a high state of alert and working day and night to arrest these guys."
But he hit back at allegations of a potential intelligence failure preceding the attacks — which came just days after the arrest of Europe's most-wanted man, Salah Abdeslam, in Brussels.
"I don't think we have missed something" Jambon told NBC News. "It's a difficult, difficult job... Our services are really professionals... We showed it with Abdeslam."
The problem is, he said, officials are up against a dangerous and organized adversary.
"The people of IS are also professionals," Jambon added. "So that means that the job is extremely difficult."