Atlanta’s mayor reached out today to express the city’s solidarity with its sister city of Brussels after suicide bombers killed at least 30 and injured more than 230 in three separate explosions that hit two major transit hubs in the Belgian capital.
“This attack is a vicious attempt to break our spirit. At moments like this, we must stand together and pledge that no terrorist attack will ever shake the resolve of our city, state and nation,” Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement.
Given that one of the attacks happened inside an airport terminal, Mr. Reed reiterated enhanced security measures at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport adopted in the wake of the November’s Paris attacks, including reducing the number of access points into secure areas, increasing police and Transportation Security Administration patrols of the grounds and implementing a program to screen all airport employees.
Georgia’s Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, before speaking at Kennesaw State University on the importance of international education, said he was confronted by the reality of the attacks this morning when turning on the TV after his morning workout.
“The first thing I saw was the horror that happened in Brussels,” he said.
He sought to reassure the public that the Atlanta airport’s customs facilities were secure, noting that 100 million people passed through the airport without incident last year.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection matches fingerprints of international visitors to databases, and there are “jail cells” at the airport to contain people trying to “slip into our country,” he said.
He added that it might be time to consider beginning the screening process upon arrival at the airport, much like Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport does, given the fact that the Brussels International Airport attacks occurred at the check-in counter.
He reiterated calls for a limited special forces presence to defeat ISIS, noting the limited effectiveness of aerial strikes without intelligence on the ground.
“I have said before that containment is no good. When you contain an enemy you get exactly what’s happening today in Brussels,” he said, but added that the attacks should not be politicized in an election year where the balance of security, openness to immigration and the fight against Islamic extremism have been central themes.
“First of all, the people that died in Brussels today were not Democrats. They weren’t Republicans. They were Americans and citizens of the world (there were three Americans that were injured),” he said. “We’ve got to first of all be concerned about humanity and make sure we’ve got the security and protection necessary to wipe out things like (Islamic State).”
At 8:15 a.m. local time, the first of two explosions was detonated at the airport, blowing out windows and sending ceiling tiles showering down on travelers.
About an hour later, according to reports, the Maelbeek metro station was hit, shaking an area of the city that is home to European Union administrative and legislative buildings.
The blasts came less than a week after the suspect in the Paris terror attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was apprehended in Belgium. Officials said he operated with the help of an Islamic State-affiliated cell in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek. Belgium has been on alert for terrorist attacks since the November massacres in Paris, where more than 130 were killed bombings and shootings at a cafe, stadium and concert hall. Islamic State, or ISIS, has praised Tuesday’s attacks and warned more retribution for Belgium’s participation in the international coalition against the group in Syria and Iraq.
According to CNN, Belgian officials said it was too early to tell whether the attacks were directly linked to Mr. Adeslam’s capture.
Delta Air Lines Inc. had two flights going into Brussels this morning from the U.S. One from Atlanta landed safely and parked on the tarmac away from the terminal after the airport was evacuated and closed to flights. The airport will stay closed through Wednesday. Delta this morning was working on a plan to deplane the 151 passengers an 11 crew members into a secure area.
Another Delta flight from New York to Brussels was diverted to Amsterdam. Delta has initiated a travel waiver that will allow passengers booked on flights to Brussels, Amsterdam or Paris between March 22-31 to change their plans if tickets are issued before March 27 and travel begins before March 31.
“The thoughts and prayers of the entire Delta family are with the people of Brussels today,” said Ed Bastian, Delta CEO, in an updated statement Tuesday afternoon. “As part of running a global airline, our teams are in constant contact with authorities in Brussels and were able to immediately go into action this morning on behalf of our employees and customers. We’re grateful to our employees in the operation who are supporting re-accommodations and diversions.”
The Atlanta airport also offered condolences to the victims and their aviation colleagues in Brussels.
“In light of these attacks, the airport remains on heightened alert and will continue to coordinate with federal, state, and city law enforcement. Safety and security are always a constant focus at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport,” a statement from the airport reads.
The Consulate General of Belgium in Atlanta thanked the local community for expressions of solidarity on its Facebook page. Comments, statements of support and condolences sent to Atlanta@diplobel.fed.be will be presented to Foreign Minister Didier Reynders in a condolence book.
The Belgian embassy in Washington issued a statement noting that cell networks may be overloaded and that those seeking to inquire about the whereabouts of friends and family should contact the Crisis Center of the Ministry of Home Affairs at +32 7815 1771.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Atlanta airport.