Police Strike Halts Brussels Airport Reopening

Police Strike Halts Brussels Airport Reopening
Police Strike Halts Brussels Airport Reopening

Plans to partially reopen Brussels airport on Friday evening have been halted amid a strike by airport police over security concerns.

The Zaventem facility has been closed since a twin suicide bomb attack on the departures hall on 22 March.

The SLFP police union told BBC that security measures put in place for the reopening were insufficient.

The self-styled Islamic State terrorist group said it carried out bombings of the airport and metro system that killed 32 people.

Vincent Gilles, the president of SLFP, the largest police union in Belgium, said, “We are on strike because of what happened on 22 March; we cannot continue as if this day has not happened.”

Gilles called for more controlled access to the departures hall, including the use of metal detectors, body scanners and x-ray machines for luggage.

“We also need to check if all the people and luggage that pass through the area are in fact flying to further destinations,” he said.

In an earlier statement, the airport’s operators had said a partial reopening would be possible on Friday evening, after a temporary check-in system had been tested and made ready.

However, it said the departures area, which was severely damaged by the bomb attacks, would only operate at 20% of normal capacity, receiving only 800 departing passengers per hour.

The operator said on Friday this could not now go ahead because of the strike.

Belgian media said the government was still considering the possibility of a reopening. Defense Minister Steven Vandeput said, “We must find a balance between economic needs and security needs.”

Arnaud Feist, the airport operator’s chief executive, said earlier this week that the airport would take months to reopen fully.

In an earlier open letter to authorities published by Belgian broadcaster VRT (in Dutch), police had said they had sent “strong daily signals regarding the overall security at the airport”. They also alleged that too many airport employees had criminal backgrounds.

Police are still searching for the third man who took part in the airport attacks. The man, pictured on CCTV wearing a hat, was said to have fled the scene without detonating his explosive device.

The two airport bombers who died have been named as Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. Bakraoui’s brother, Khalid el-Bakraoui, blew himself up at Maelbeek metro station.

Police later found a computer in which Ibrahim el-Bakraoui left a final message.