Brussels explosions: UK Foreign Office warns against travel to Brussels – BBC News

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Officers are carrying out high-visibility patrols at UK airports among other places

The UK Foreign Office is changing its advice to warn against all but essential travel to Brussels following Tuesday’s attacks, the BBC understands.

Meanwhile security at ports, airports, Tube and major railway stations in the UK has been stepped up, with the PM warning of “a very real terror threat”.

David Cameron condemned the Brussels attacks, in which more than 30 are feared dead, as “appalling and savage”.

One UK national was injured in the airport blasts, Downing Street said.

Twin blasts hit Zaventem airport at about 07:00 GMT, with 11 people reported killed. Another explosion at Maelbeek metro station near EU headquarters an hour later left about 20 people dead.

The Foreign Office is advising Britons in Brussels to avoid crowds, and has issued an emergency number for those worried a relative may have been affected – 020 7008 0000.

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The UK’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, said increased police activity in the UK was a precaution, but not in response to any specific information or intelligence.

In London, he said, the Met was putting more police on duty to carry out patrols at key locations.

The Belgian flag is being flown at half mast above Downing Street.

‘They can never win’

Prime Minister David Cameron chaired an emergency Cobra meeting to determine the UK’s response to the explosions, and said Britain would do everything it could to help the Belgian authorities.

“These are appalling and savage terrorist attacks and I’ve just spoken to the prime minister of Belgium to give our sympathies and our condolences to the Belgian people,” Mr Cameron said.

“They could just as well be attacks in Britain or in France or Germany, or elsewhere in Europe and we need to stand together against these appalling terrorists and make sure they can never win.”

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Greater Manchester Police says it has stepped up patrols, but there is no specific threat

He said the UK faced a “very real terror threat”, and the UK authorities were continuing to review information coming in – and would raise the terror threat level if there were information of a direct threat.

The UK terror threat level has been at “severe” since August 2014, meaning an attack is highly likely.

Confirming that one Briton was injured, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said: “We don’t have confirmation of any other casualties – or, for the worst, fatalities – at this stage but details are still emerging, so that picture and that information could change.”

BBC political correspondent James Landale said Number 10 had confirmed that the Foreign Office was changing its travel advice, and Whitehall officials would meet later to consider any further response to the Brussels attacks.

Airport security in the spotlight

By BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds

Airports are generally designed around a clear security “line” after which people pass into the “airside” area – in effect a security bubble. This protects the aircraft as much as the airport. The Brussels bombs were detonated outside the bubble, in the terminal before the security check.

Passengers will wonder why there are no security scanners at the door of the airport, or the entrance to the car park. Should we move the line of security?

The problem is that this simply moves the place where the queue forms. And queues are the ideal soft target for a terrorist.

Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, often cited as the world’s most secure, relies on profiling. Passengers are closely watched and intensively questioned about who they are and where they are going. Some experts swear by it, but it has been criticised as “politically incorrect”.

Meanwhile, the UK government stresses the importance of good intelligence. But even if it was possible to fully protect air travellers, there are plenty of other places where crowds gather, which could be targeted instead.

Read more: Airport security under the spotlight

The attacks come four days after Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris attacks, was captured in Brussels.

The Belgian federal prosecutor said it was “probably a suicide bomber” who struck the airport.

Police in the UK have appealed for any UK nationals who were in Brussels and may have images or footage of the incidents to come forward and assist the investigation.

They have set up a website where images and videos can be uploaded.

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The Belgian flag is being flown at half mast above 10 Downing Street

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Eurostar trains from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi station have been cancelled, and extra patrols added at the UK’s international train stations

Cancelled flights

Heathrow and Gatwick airports have stepped up security, while flights between the UK and Brussels are disrupted. Passengers are being advised to contact their travel operator.

Brussels Airport said it would be closed on Wednesday, and officials would evaluate whether to resume operations on Thursday.

In the latest developments:

  • Eurostar says no trains are currently running to or from Brussels Midi station. Passengers are being advised to postpone journeys and services are terminating at Lille in northern France
  • The Port of Dover says security checks remain heightened since November’s attacks in Paris, with customers urged to leave extra time before travelling
  • Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster expressed her shock at the attacks, while Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said her thoughts were with the people of Belgium. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones tweeted: “Deeply concerned with unfolding events in Brussels – thoughts with everyone involved.”

Brussels explosions: UK Foreign Office warns against travel to Brussels – BBC News