Monrovia – The last time Pearl Munah Forbes visited her homeland, Liberia was in 2004, to bury her late father, former Chief Justice James G. Bull. On her way home for her first visit in a decade, Mrs. Forbes was one of several Liberian who experienced closed calls Tuesday when a terror attack at Brussels International Airport and a city metro station, killed at least 31 people and seriously injuring scores of others.
Her mother, Cllr. Pearl Brown Bull told FrontPageAfrica Tuesday that Munah had boarded a Delta flight from Raleigh, North Carolina to JFK airport in New York where she boarded an SN Brussels SN Brussels flight to Brussels. She was due to arrive via SN Brussels at 7pm Tuesday. Luckily for Munah and several Liberians on the Monrovia-bound flight, the plane was still in the air when the explosion took place. “The bomb had gone off before they landed,” Cllr. Bull said Tuesday.
“I Am Alive, Liberian Declares
It is unclear how many Liberians were in the vicinity of the airport or on the flight, when the explosion took place but in a posting on her Facebook Page Tuesday, Munah said all of the Liberians on board the flight from New York were accounted for and safe. “I am alive but a bomb just killed a lot of people inside the airport in Europe,” she said.
Many Liberians residing in Europe used the Brussels route for travel. Royal Air Maroc is the only other airline connecting travels from the U.S. and Liberia since the departure of Air France, Delta and British Airways on the eve of the deadly Ebola virus outbreak. In Monrovia, SN Brussels, the only European airline flying in and out of Liberia posted a message on its website notifying customers that all flights have been cancelled due to the explosion.
“Due to two explosions at Brussels Airport this morning, March 22nd, the airport is closed until further notice. As a consequence all flights to and from Brussels Airport are cancelled today. Passengers holding a ticket for a Lufthansa Group flight (Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Germanwings) between today and 28 March to/from/via Brussels can rebook or refund their ticket for free. Passengers who booked their ticket via a travel agency are kindly asked to contact the agency for their rebooking or refund.
The terror group ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks on an affiliated website, as authorities search for a suspect on the loose. ISIS claimed it “carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices” in “the Belgian capital Brussels, a country participating in the international coalition against the Islamic State [ISIS],” according to the site. But the claim could not be independently verified and there’s no official word from Belgian authorities.
There were two explosions in the departure hall of Brussels Airport in Zaventem, Belgium, at about 8 a.m. local time today, according to Prime Minister Charles Michel, where officials said at least 14 people were killed. Three Americans, Mormon missionaries, were “seriously injured” in the blasts, according to Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Also, the U.S. military said one of its service members and his family were “caught up in this tragedy.”
There was also an explosion a little over an hour later on the rail tracks at the Maelbeek subway station, according to a spokeswoman for Brussels transportation department. At least 20 people were killed there, officials said. Between the two sites, local officials estimate that more than 180 people were injured.
Mrs. Forbes explained that once the plane landed after the explosion they were taken on a bus away from the airport but said she and other Liberians on board the flight were safe. “All the group of us who are from Liberia, we’re all together and we’re okay. So we just need you guys to stay strong and we will contact our family members as soon as we get some information. But right now we need for your to be safe, we don’t need for your to be panicking. Just pray for us, and pray for this damn country y’all and them damn terrorists’ man.”
A stroke of luck was a big part of the survivors who were on the Brussels-bound flight from New York. “Thank God we didn’t get on no plane. They are evacuating everybody right now. I don’t know where we’re going. My phone is about to die but I’m OK, I’m alive, I’m fine, I want you guys to make sure to let my mother know because I don’t want for you guys to be panicking. We just want to make sure that the women and children are Ok,” Munah wrote.
Speaking through what looked like a smartphone video, Mrs. Forbes said a lot of people got hurt in the explosion. “Everybody is just panicking but we’re trying to stay together. We’re on the bus and we are safe and we’re gonna remain safe”. But it’s craziness going on right here. For Mrs. Forbes, the scenes were a wakeup call.
“You may think that this stuff don’t happen but it is an everyday situation, you never know when you might caught up in some bullshit like this. So pray for those who just lost their lives. A lot of people just passed away over bullshit. A lot of people just over a plain bullshit. Simple bullshit. Your Terrorists, you need to stop that shit, your need to stop that.”
Around the world, Tuesday’s attack is drawing condemnation. U.S. President Barack Obama, in Cuba for an historic visit, said the U.S. will do whatever it can to help Belgium bring to justice those responsible for Tuesday’s terror attacks. Obama urged international unity in the fight against terror after the attacks left at least 34 people dead. “We will do whatever is necessary to support our friend and ally Belgium in bringing to justice those who are responsible,” Obama said in brief remarks while in Cuba, where he was making an address to the Cuban people after his administration ended decades of estrangement between the two countries.
Belgium on Alert
Belgium has raised its terrorism threat to its highest level. Three days of national mourning have been declared. The attacks come four days after Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive in the Paris attacks, was seized in Brussels. Prime Minister Charles Michel called the latest attacks “blind, violent and cowardly”, adding: “This is a day of tragedy, a black day… I would like to call on everyone to show calmness and solidarity”.
European Council president Donald Tusk said: “These attacks mark another low by the terrorists in the service of hatred and violence.” Multiple international news outlets quoted the Belgian prosecutor as saying that a “suicide bomber” was probably involved in the tragedy. The state-owned Belga news agency reports that shots were fired and shouts in Arabic were heard before the two explosions. France has stepped up security, and the cabinet has held an emergency meeting.
“The terrorists have struck Belgium but it is Europe that was targeted. And it is the whole world that is concerned with this,” said French President Francois Hollande. There is also extra security at Dutch airports. ISIS claimed to strike yet again on European soil Tuesday, saying its “fighters” launched attacks on the airport and a subway station in Belgium’s capital that killed at least 30 people and wounded about 230 more.
After Tuesday’s attacks, Belgian state broadcaster RTBF reported that Belgian authorities carried out midday raids in a search for people linked to the attacks. Several witnesses told CNN they’d seen Police Special Forces combing through the northeast Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek, cordoning off a train station there.
Sirleaf Sends Condolences
Meanwhile, President Sirleaf Consoles Kingdom of Belgium on the sad events of the simultaneous terrorist explosions. According to a Foreign Ministry release, the Liberian leader, in her message to His Majesty King Phillipe, King of Belgium, she expressed deep regrets following the distressing events of possible suicide explosions at the Brussels Airport and subway system, respectively, killing at least 30 individuals and injuring dozens of others.
President Sirleaf furthered that Liberia is saddened by the loss of lives resulting from these dastardly acts. On behalf of the Government and people of Liberia and in her own name, President Sirleaf extended heartfelt sympathy to the Government and people of the Kingdom of Belgium, especially to the families of the victims. “Please accept, Your Majesty, our thoughts and deepest condolences to you and through you to the bereaved families. May God provide you the strength and courage to endure this difficult period,” the Liberian leader indicated.
Reporting: Rodney D. Sieh, firstname.lastname@example.org