Flags were flying at half-staff in Cayman and around the world Tuesday after terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium, killed more than 30 people and wounding scores of others.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for explosions that rocked the main international airport and a subway station Tuesday morning. The attacks began just before 8 a.m. in the departure hall of Zaventem airport with an explosion, followed shortly by another.
About an hour later, a bomb exploded in the last car of a subway train as it was leaving the Maelbeek station, which is just a few hundred feet from the headquarters of the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union.
Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin commented on the attacks in a statement released early Tuesday. He said his administration was “saddened to hear of the deadly attacks” in Brussels, and that the world is “becoming very unsafe as acts of terrorism increase.”
“In this interconnected world there are few places on Earth that are immune from the impact of further escalations in this global war on terror,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “We will keep a watchful eye on the events of the day and remain vigilant.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been impacted by these vicious acts of violence,” he added.
Flags at the Government Administration Building on Elgin Avenue were lowered to half-staff as a mark of respect for the victims of the attacks and will remain at that position until 8 p.m. Wednesday.
North Side resident and Belgian native Ellen Cuylaerts said it was an emotional morning as she followed the news of the attacks in her home country. She and her husband Michael Maes are from Antwerp, about 26 miles from Zaventem airport, and have several friends who live in Brussels.
“I woke up around 3:30 a.m. and saw the news,” Ms. Cuylaerts said. “It’s such a small country, but Zaventem is a very busy airport, especially like now around the Easter holiday.”
She said many of her friends were close to the airport this morning, but luckily all her friends and family are safe.
Mr. Maes said, “What happened once more in Europe goes beyond my capabilities to process.
“I lived the first 40 years of my life about 25 miles from where this morning 34 innocent people got stolen their lives, loved ones got taken away from their families. What God, what supreme being, what universal force or energy would want innocent living creatures to die for nothing?”
He said his thoughts are with friends, family, victims and all those affected “by this act of cowards.”
Cayman Islands Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers was another Belgian following the news on Tuesday.
“This all has hit very close to home,” Mr. Liebaers said. “My brother takes the subway every morning around that time. I used to take that subway every day. The coffee shop in the airport where the second bomb went off, we always stop and get a coffee there … It’s just very sad.”
When he heard the news, he quickly checked in with his immediate family who live in Brussels. They are all safe. Mr. Liebaers said his brother, who normally would have been on the subway, happened to have a dentist appointment and was walking instead.
Mr. Liebaers said he visits Brussels frequently, and he was last in Brussels in December to attend a conference that ended up being canceled due to the threat of terrorism. He noted the increased military presence and the appearance of armed police. When he was growing up, he said, the police were never armed with guns in Belgium.
Mr. Liebaers said that while tragic events such as Tuesday’s attacks often bring out the best in people, as they come together to help one another, such events can also bring out the worst in people.
“I’m a little concerned about the political backlash, where whole parts of the population are going to be blamed,” Mr. Liebaers said. He said the attacks will not push his family to leave the city.
“They’ll stay there. They’ve been there for many, many years,” he said. “People’s daily lives have to go on, no matter how difficult … If this is your home, you just have to make the best of it and carry on.”
European security officials have been bracing for such an attack for weeks, as Brussels became a focus of counterterrorism investigations since the November attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
On Friday, officers in Brussels arrested Salah Abdeslam, who is believed to be the sole survivor of the 10 men directly involved in the Paris attacks. His arrest heightened fears of impending attacks.
“What we feared has come to pass,” Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium said in a news conference after the attacks. “Our country has been struck by attacks which are blind, violent and cowardly.”
At another press conference Tuesday evening, Mr. Michel said that although Belgians may be saddened and grieving after the deadly attacks earlier in the day, the country is ready to defend its freedoms. He said Belgium would be tightening security at its borders and declared three days of national mourning.