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Asian Leaders Condemn Terror Attacks in Brussels

Imran Vittachi
Washington
2016-03-22
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A private security guard helps an injured woman outside the Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, March 22, 2016.
A private security guard helps an injured woman outside the Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, March 22, 2016.
AFP

South and Southeast Asian governments Tuesday condemned terrorist attacks that killed at least 30 people and injured dozens more in Brussels earlier in the day.

Officials from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore issued statements deploring the coordinated attacks in Belgium’s capital that were claimed by the extremist group Islamic State (IS). Asian governments called on citizens travelling to or living in Belgium to take precautions and watch out for more terror threats.

Two Indian flight attendants were among those injured in an attack that targeted a terminal at the international airport serving Brussels.

“The two injured staff are receiving medical care. They are out of danger,” an official with Indian carrier Jet Airways told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.

The injured were identified as Nidhi Chapekar and Amit Motwani, both from Mumbai, he said.

A second attack targeted a metro station in Brussels, which serves as the seat of both the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“Belgium, do not be afraid! We are with you,” Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said in a message on Twitter in which he condemned Tuesday’s attacks and offered the Belgian people condolences.

On Jan. 14, Indonesia became the first country in Southeast Asia to be targeted in an IS-claimed strike, which killed eight people in central Jakarta including four suspected attackers.

As of Tuesday, there were no reports of any of Indonesia’s 1,200-strong expatriate community in Belgium hurt or killed by the attacks in Brussels.

A common threat

Indonesia, along with neighboring Malaysia and Singapore, has faced a growing threat from IS expanding its influence and recruiting hundreds of young fighters from the region.

As many as 1,000 Southeast Asians – mainly Indonesians and Malaysians– have travelled to Syria or Iraq to join IS, according to one estimate.

"I am shocked and appalled by the attacks in Brussels, which follow the recent attacks in Turkey,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said via Twitter, referring to terrorist attacks in Ankara on March 13 and Istanbul on March 19.

“These cowardly attacks are a reminder of the need for countries to unite and counter threats posed by extremism. The thoughts and prayers of all Malaysians are with the victims and their families," said Najib, whose government is partnering with the United States to build a regional center in Kuala Lumpur to fight extremist propaganda online.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning “the cruelty of terrorism which claimed many lives and wounded many innocents.”

Thailand suffered its first terrorist attack last year. Twenty people were killed and 120 more wounded when a bomb went off on Aug. 17 at the Erawan Shrine, a popular tourist destination in Bangkok.

On Tuesday, a Thai Airways flight landed at Brussels International Airport in Zaventem before the attack occurred, but no members of the airline’s staff or passengers were affected, Thai officials said.

Some 4,000 Thais live in Belgium, including 1,000 in Brussels.

In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent a condolence letter to his Belgian counterpart, according to the Straits Times, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its shock over news of the explosions in Brussels.

The attacks in the Belgian capital came four days after Singapore’s Home Ministry unveiled stepped-up security measures aimed at countering a regional threat posed by IS.

In announcing the measures, including expanded border checks, Home Minister K. Shanmugam said “we have several possible Molenbeeks around us.”

He was referring to a threat from IS supporters in neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as likening those countries to the district of Brussels where two brothers implicated in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks grew up.

Paris suspect arrested

Belgium had been bracing for follow-on attacks on its soil since the French capital was targeted in coordinated IS-claimed attacks that killed 130 people.

On Friday, Belgian authorities arrested Salah Abdeslam, a prime suspect in the Paris plot, in his home neighborhood of Molenbeek.

After terrorists struck on Tuesday, Belgian security agencies conducted raids across the country’s regions as they hunted for suspects.

According to state media in Belgium, at least 30 people died and over 170 were injured when three blasts ripped through the main international airport and a metro station in Brussels.

Two of the explosions occurred in the departure lounge of the airport, officials said, adding that at least one of them was likely touched off by a suicide bomber.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to SITE Intelligence, a U.S.-based website that monitors online Islamic militant traffic.

India reacts

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is scheduled to visit Brussels on March 30 for the 13th India-European Union summit, condemned the attacks.

“News from Brussels is disturbing. The attacks are condemnable. Condolences to families of the deceased. May those injured recover quickly,” Modi tweeted.

Vikas Swarup, spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, confirmed that there was no change in Modi’s scheduled visit to Brussels.

“We condemn the attack with strongest possible terms. We stand in solidarity with the people and government of Belgium. We offer our condolences to families of the victims,” Swarup said.

“Terrorism is a global scourge and the attack in Belgium underscores once again the need to counter it united,” he added.

Rohit Wadhwaney in Jaipur, India, Pimuk Rakkanam in Bangkok, Razlan Rashid in Kuala Lumpur, Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata in Jakarta and Nurdin Hasan in Banda Aceh, Indonesia contributed to this report.

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