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European officials hold emergency meeting over security response to Brussels attacks

As Belgian investigators seek two possible suspects in the Brussels bombings case, concerns are growing about why authorities did not foil the plot ahead of the attack. Meanwhile, European justice and interior ministers met to discuss enhancing security. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Belgian officials came under mounting pressure over Tuesday's terror attacks in Brussels, Islamic State bombers that killed 31 people and wounded 200 on Tuesday — 270 on Tuesday. Now the list of suspects is growing, along with questions about how it could have happened.

    Malcolm Brabant reports on the day's developments from Brussels.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Security at Brussels' Malcolm Brabant metro station eased slightly today, but police and barriers remained in place.

    One of the suicide bombers, Khalid El Bakraoui, struck there on Tuesday. Reports today said investigators now believe a second, unidentified person was involved in the subway attack, and may still be at large.

    El Bakraoui's brother, Ibrahim, and another man blew themselves up at the airport. A third man spotted there is also being sought. But concerns are growing about why the authorities didn't foil the plot.

    Belgium's justice and interior ministers offered their resignations today, but neither was accepted.

  • JAN JAMBON, Interior Minister, Belgium (through interpreter):

    If you put everything in a row, then you can say that you can indeed ask big questions in a number of areas about the Justice Department and the developments afterwards and also about the police.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    This canal is an emblem of Belgium's problems. On the left side is Brussels, on the right, Molenbeek, a poor, mostly Muslim district, many from North Africa. It's a place regarded as a no-go zone by many ethnic Belgians.

    The army is now protecting the police station not far from the hideaway of Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of last November's Paris attacks, who was captured last week. Molenbeek has been the launch pad for numerous jihadis, including fighters who've joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

    But the district's deputy mayor, Ahmed El Khannouss, resents suggestions that it is Europe's main jihadi breeding ground.

  • AHMED EL KHANNOUSS, Deputy Mayor, Molenbeek (through interpreter):

    Molenbeek is not a bastion of terrorism. Molenbeek is not a fertile ground for terrorism. There is no lawless area in Molenbeek. That doesn't mean there are not any problems. We have big problems, and this is just one of them. It's true that Molenbeek has a link with certain terrorist activities because the perpetrators passed through here, but the local and national authorities were not aware of it.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    It increasingly appears that the same ISIS network was behind both the attacks in Brussels and in Paris last November. Salah Abdeslam was summoned to court in Brussels today. His lawyer said he no longer opposes extradition to France.

    SVEN MARY, Attorney for Salah Abdeslam: In the beginning, he wanted that his extradition to France took some more time. Yesterday, he changed his mind.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    This was also the first of three days of mourning in Belgium, and the prime minister spoke ahead of another moment of silence, saying his nation was hit at its heart.

  • CHARLES MICHEL, Prime Minister, Belgium (through interpreter):

    At the airport, at the subway station, the liberty of daily life was slaughtered. That same liberty is at the foundation of our democracy, our desire to live together in harmony, that same liberty upon which the European project was built.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Nearby, the Place de la Bourse has become the focal point for grief, defiance and solidarity. This young Syrian held up a sign today saying she may be a Muslim, but she's not a terrorist.

    And Belgian Xavier Hannon came here to chalk a simple message on the sidewalk. "For you who have departed," he wrote.

    XAVIER HANNON, Friend of Bombing Victim (through interpreter): I came to write a couple of words for my friend who died in the metro. He was just on his way to a lesson. And now he will never come back. He had nothing to do with this. We have nothing to do with this. It's not our war. We're just young people.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Throughout Brussels, was evidence that this country is involved in a war with an enemy it can't see. The army was on guard at the main Eurostar train station. Every suitcase, however harmless, represents a potential threat in this difficult climate. And the Brussels Airport has canceled flights until at least Monday.

    This afternoon, European Union justice and interior ministers held an emergency meeting to discuss enhancing security. With more than 5,000 jihadis said to be roaming Europe, the issue could not be more urgent.

    Nevertheless, the Belgian authorities have lowered the terror threat level, despite saying that another attack is — quote — "likely and possible" — Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The U.S. State Department said today that it's still trying to account for all the Americans known to have been in Brussels on Tuesday.

    And this evening, French authorities said they have arrested a suspect in Paris who was planning an attack there.

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