Brussels Airport reopens to passenger flights amid enhanced security

Posted at 6:20 PM, Apr 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-03 18:25:20-04

Brussels will take an important step toward normalcy today when the city’s airport reopens to passengers, just 12 days after it was targeted during last month’s terror attacks.

But only three flights will depart Sunday, as the airport slowly begins to return to its regular operations in the wake of the March 22 bombings.

“These flights are the first hopeful sign from an airport that is standing up straight after a cowardly attack,” airport CEO Arnaud Feist said Saturday.

The scheduled flights are Brussels Airlines services to Faro, Portugal; Turin, Italy; and Athens, Greece.

No arrivals are planned Sunday, but departing and arriving passenger flights will be added in coming days, Feist said. Cargo flights resumed at the airport more than a week ago.

The move comes after days of negotiations between airport and police officials on new security arrangements. For the first few days of its opening, the airport will be accessible only by car — not by public transport buses or trains, Feist said.

Because of the enhanced security measures — which will include screening of passengers before they enter the airport — travelers should arrive at least three hours before their scheduled departure, the airport said.

Protesters arrested

The reopening of the facility comes a day after police arrested 140 people for attending illegal demonstrations and gatherings in the city.

City officials had made an order prohibiting demonstrations in Brussels this weekend after a far-right group announced plans to hold an anti-Islam rally on Saturday in Molenbeek, a heavily immigrant neighborhood with links to a number of attackers in recent terror plots.

In response, an anti-racism group called for a counter-demonstration in the same neighborhood.

Although the far-right protest was called off, anti-racism protesters gathered in Molenbeek Saturday and began marching toward the center of Brussels, where they were pushed back by police in riot gear.

Police said arrests were also made at a gathering in Place de la Bourse in central Brussels, which has become home to an unofficial memorial commemorating the victims of the terror attacks.

Police have been anxious to avoid a repeat of the chaotic scenes that unfolded last Sunday, when hundreds of far-right demonstrators gathered in the Place de la Bourse, shouting anti-immigrant slogans. Authorities used water cannons to clear the protesters, some of whom were filmed giving Nazi salutes.

Police said those arrested Saturday face charges for failing to follow orders to disperse and other administrative offenses.

Elsewhere in Belgium: arrest linked to French plot

Also Saturday, Belgian officials announced an arrest in one of the terror investigations connecting their nation and France.

The Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced that investigators, who had been looking into last month’s arrest of a man allegedly plotting an attack in France, have detained and charged a 33-year-old man for being part of a terror group.

It’s not clear what exactly this man allegedly did, or even who he is. He’s identified only as a Belgian national with the initials Y.A. in the prosecutor’s news release.

His case is connected with that of Reda Kriket, a 32-year-old French citizen indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy in order to commit a terrorism act, possession of false documents, weapons possession and manufacturing of explosives.

French police arrested Kriket on March 24 in Boulogne-Billancourt, just west of Paris, then raided an apartment not far away in Argenteuil. There, they found a large weapons cache and bomb-making materials, French Prosecutor Francois Molins has said.

Kriket was previously found guilty in absentia by a Belgian court and sentenced to 10 years in prison for being part of a jihadist network, according to Belgian court documents.

Authorities haven’t given any indication that Y.A. or Kriket had any direct involvement in the March 22 Brussels bombings.

Nor is any connection publicly known between these two men and the terror that struck Paris last November, which left 130 dead and hundreds more wounded.

Those attackers had close ties to Belgium, with many having lived in the capital.