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Report: Witnesses Describe Loud Bang In Brussels Train Station; Police Say Incident Is Under Control; Bomb Disposal Unit Is On Scene. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. You're watching CNN. We've some breaking news coming out of Brussels, Belgium, where there are reports of explosions and gunfire. CNN's Erin McLaughlin is there. Aaron, tell me just what you know.

[15:35:00[ ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. Well, I'm standing not far from the scene of this activity, the incident that unfolded. Police just confirming on twitter that there has been some sort of incident at Brussels' Grand Central train station. You can see it in the distance there. They have set up a security perimeter around the station. You can see a very large police presence. There's also a military presence out on the street. The military presence there, largely because Brussels is on a continued heightened state of alert due to the terror threat. No suggestion so far that this incident at the moment is a result of terrorism.

What we do know from police tweeting out that there has been an incident at the train station, one of the main train demonstrations here at Brussels. The police also tweeting that the situation is under control, asking that they follow -- that individuals follow instructions. We know from Belgian media that the police have confirmed, according to Belgian media, that there has been some sort of explosion inside the station and that soldiers opened up on a private individual. That is what we know so far. We are working to get more information, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll let you do that. Erin, thank you so much outside the train station. I have Remy, also a witness on the phone. Remy, are you in or near this train station? What are you seeing?

REMY BONNAFFE, WITNESS: I was near the train station. Now my employer is driving me back home.

BALDWIN: Did you hear the bang? Reports of some sort of explosion inside the train station.

BONNAFFE: Yes, it was -- I was actually waiting in the main hall when all of a sudden there was a very loud explosion, and then in front of me, I could see -- I could see a burning object. People were looking around us and after a second, there was a second explosion, and then people started to run out of the station. And then I could hear very loud bangs, although I could not see any people injured at all. And then I ran into the Hilton hotel.

BALDWIN: Remy, where exactly were these explosions? Were they in the middle to the train station or just on the outside?

BONNAFFE: Inside, inside, in the middle of the train station. Where most people are waiting.

BALDWIN: Near where people are waiting. And when you say you saw one burning and then you heard that second explosion, how -- how loud -- how large was that fire? How large was --

BONNAFFE: The fire, that was actually very surprising because the bang was very loud. It was like a very big fire work that just went off in front of my nose but then the fire, i have a picture. The fire is quite small. So, it was a very small explosion, but with a very loud bang. Yeah.

BALDWIN: Okay. Remy, stay with me. I've got one more person I want to bring on. Arash Aazami, also on the phone with me.


BALDWIN: It's Brooke, you're live on CNN. I understand you tried to walk into the train station moments ago. Were you being held back because of the police?

AAZAMI: Yes. So, we -- we left our taxi, we were late for our train. We walked into the train station and right at that moment, we were loudly evacuated by security personnel, so first we didn't understand them. We saw people running out of the station and then we figured something must be wrong. And then we were let in by personnel of a restaurant next to the train station and that's where I am right now.

BALDWIN: So, I was just talking to our last guest, who actually saw and then heard a second explosion. Did you hear two explosions?

AAZAMI: No, we didn't hear any explosions. We just witnessed the evacuation, and right at that moment, all kinds of police cars and security were rushing around to secure the building.

BALDWIN: All right. I'm just getting information in talking to you Arash, a bomb unit has just arrived there on the scene. If you're just joining us, we're watching these pictures out of Brussels, Belgium. You see a lot of flashing blue lights, huge police presence because there's been reports of explosions inside one of their central train stations in the Belgian capital. Belgian police referring to it as an incident with an individual at the station. They're saying that this situation is under control. But please follow the instructions. We're talking to two different eye-witnesses here. So, Arash, it's just about quarter until 10:00 your time in Belgium. How busy is the train station right about now?

[15:40:00] AAZAMI: Well, right now, of course, I can't tell. Like I said, it's evacuated but usually this is a very busy time at this kind of train stations, and I can confirm that right now I'm looking at an explosive, what is that, one of these with a unit to dismantle explosives and a command car of the police and there's a lot of military here. But the situation seems to be contained. There's no -- there's no sign of panic on the station square.

BALDWIN: That is a good sign. That is a really good sign. Arash, thank you. Michael Weiss just got seated. You know, terror expert here and just listen, no one's calling this terrorism, Michael. But you know, when you hear, especially in the wake of what's happened in Paris and London and when you're hearing eye-witnesses describe bangs and explosions inside a train station a lot of people's minds go there.

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: And also, it's Brussels. We saw all of the Paris attackers had essentially plotted their attacks from Brussels and there was the famous attack in the Brussels airport. Major transport hub. Explosion, a bomb, this doesn't seem to have done much damage, thank god, but thoughts immediately go toward a case of jihad, rights? Just given the venue and the city involved.

It seems like, you know, Belgian police were on it very quickly. It sounds like they've cordoned off the area. We spoke to an eye-witness who thank god, but thoughts immediately go toward a case of jihad, right? Just given the venue and the city involved.

The original witness didn't describe the explosion -- it sounds like the sound really reverberated and was quite loud but the way he described the fire was quite small. We just don't know a lot, really at this point in time.

WEISS: Well it wouldn't be the first time that a bomb turned out to be a dud or that was semi-successful in detonating but not having the maximum impact that had been intended but completely unaware as to what the situation is at this point.

BALDWIN: Our reporter at the train station and here's an overlook of the city. She had mentioned there's been a heightened state of alert in Belgium. Was that because of what's happened elsewhere in Europe?

WEISS: Yes, and also, this is the sort of central hub for ISIS' European network. Brussels -- Belgian police authorities and law enforcement, intelligence have had a really are rough time rounding up everybody that they suspect might be at large. I mean, remember, ISIS started sending operatives into Europe even before they lost Kobani in 2014. This was always part of their main strategy. First, we build our caliphate, do our nation building in Syria and Iraq and then bring the jihad to the west and they were relying on native sons and daughters from Europe who had either gone off and got the training in Raqqa or more often than not were radicalized and remotely controlled by ISIS command while they walked the streets of Europe, particularly the French-speaking streets of Europe.

BALDWIN: You and I were sitting here 24 hours ago.

WEISS: The Champs-Elysees.

BALDWIN: We were talking about the individual who tried to ram a car or a van into, you know, security police.


BALDWIN: Along the Champs-Elysees and also the man who was outside of -- in London outside of that mosque in that community in London. And you know, a white man in that case. We don't know if he was specifically targeting, you know, Muslims, but it was just after Ramadan, after midnight, just people are on edge right now, especially in Europe.

WEISS: Sure. And remember -- I mean, well, the London attack and the Champs-Elysees attack, these were both rudimentary in the sense that this was getting in a car and mowing people over. A bomb, though, it comes back to the Paris and Brussels attacks. The bomb maker for that ISIS network lived in Brussels. So, when you hear bomb, and you see a major transport hub in a European capital city, the headquarters of NATO, the headquarters of the European Union, you know, I'm not trying to jump to conclusions here, but I am thinking --

BALDWIN: That's important to point out the significance of Brussels.

WEISS: Right.

BALDWIN: Seeing all those leaders just, what, was that a couple weeks ago, looking at some new pictures here. So, on the right side of the screen, I presume that this is tape that's just come back in from us, perhaps after the explosion. Guys, just get in my ear and let me know if we know anything. Yes, I am correct. So, everyone standing around wondering what the heck is going on. At least talking to the las eye- witness last eye-witness, that there doesn't appear to be a lot of panic, that the police have this under control and perhaps hopefully it was a dud and it didn't wreak the damage that this individual was hoping. But still, you know, my goodness. Just in Europe right now.

WEISS: Well, remember, what was it a little over a year ago, the bombing here in New York in Chelsea, which was essentially a -- fortunately turned out to be nothing more, really, than a dumpster fire, but that could have been very significant in a downtown crowded area full of bars, restaurants, people, you know, enjoying a night life, and it just -- it was a bit of a damp squib. If this is a similar situation, then, yeah, this is the reason why people aren't running in terror.

[15:45:00] BALDWIN: That was still plenty scary for a lot of people on a Saturday night in Manhattan. Michael, stay with me. I've got Erin McLaughlin in Brussels. I understand you spoke with the police. What did you learn?

MCLAUGHLIN: Hi, Brooke. Well, we're still waiting for more information. Police at this point being tight lipped with the details. They have confirmed that there has been an incident at the central train station here in Brussels just behind me, you can see that they've cordoned off the road leading to the station. You can see a very, heavy police as well as a military presence. A producer here on the ground a short while ago saw a bomb disposal truck drive by, but in terms of what exactly unfolded here, the sequence of events, authorities at the moment, again, not saying at present. We do know, though, from police that the situation is under control here in Brussels as they continue to work on what now, obviously, is an ongoing investigation into what exactly happened. But again, a situation is under control, according to eye-witnesses, there were blasts, some pops heard inside the station itself, unclear how many individuals were injured in the incident, if there are any injuries at all. Also, unclear how authorities managed to get the situation under control.

BALDWIN: Erin, thank you very much. In Brussels for us. We'll come back to you when you get more information. But let's bring in Anthony May, he's a retired ATF explosives investigator. You know, Anthony, we just heard Erin say that the bomb disposal truck is there. Tell me what they're doing.

ANTHONY MAY, RETIRED ATF EXPLOSIVES INVESTIGATOR: Well, right now, they're probably going to try to clear the area. Ensure that there are no secondary devices. I'm not very familiar with what's going on there. Kind of caught me off guard on this one. But I'm sure there's backpacks, luggage laying around, maybe, that they've got to go through, just to make sure there's no other hazards, no secondary devices to clear the scene so they can get the injured out and then start the criminal investigation.

BALDWIN: Anthony, are you near a TV right now?

MAY: No, I'm not, actually. I'm on my way to an airport.

BALDWIN: Well, let me just describe to you, because we're getting our first images what appears to be the explosion mid-explosion, this sort of fiery tower, maybe, I guess, 5 to 6 feet in height just based upon the height of the structure next to it. That would be in any train station and you can see the fiery glow, people running from it. You know, beyond that, the fact that you're not looking at it, tell me -- tell me what -- what, you know, units will do once they upon that explosion. The remnants.

MAY: They're going to try to establish where the blast seat was once they start the investigation but I think they're probably -- it's probably too soon into this event to start looking into that. Like I said, their major concern right now is to secure the scene and make the scene safe to evacuate the injured as well as follow on investigators.

BALDWIN: What about the person who put it there? How are they looking for him or her?

MAY: I'm sorry, why -- I'm in a very noisy background area. Why are they --

BALDWIN: I said, what about the person who left the explosion? How are they looking for him or her?

MAY: Well, typically, they're going to start canvassing the area for any CCTV cameras, footage that may have picked up the individual. Teams of investigators pulling those camera footages, reviewing those to see what they can glean from that. As far as identifying who the individual was and what direction he might have headed in and then continue trying to follow him with the CCTV cameras.

BALDWIN: Stay with me, Anthony. Erin just back to you, you know, outside of this train station. It's just about 10:00 at night where you are. Describe to me just what's normal at this time of evening in terms of crowds around the train station.

MCLAUGHLIN: I mean, this incident did happen later in the evening, not as congested as that train station as it would be during, say, a rush hour, people would be making their way home from work. As you can see, this scene before you now, the street is -- the street is empty except for emergency services, which are responding to this incident. There's also a military presence out. Traffic, though, is moving sort of around this area. There are -- there is a small group of bystanders that have gathered, mainly curious to see what is going on. Other than that, the area surrounding the station itself appears to have been completely evacuated. Brooke?

BALDWIN: Erin, the first eye-witness who I spoke with who it looks like is actually the one who provided the image of the explosion, was saying that it appeared to be -- or he heard two explosions and that the explosion was sort of deeper within the train station. Have you heard anything on that from police?

MCLAUGHLIN: No. I mean, at the moment, police are being very tight lipped in terms of details. The first accounts that we heard of this incident were accounts from eye-witnesses on twitter. I called authorities immediately when those accounts first crossed and they were still trying to put the pieces together as to what exactly transpired here which, you know, what happened now, of course, is the subject of an ongoing investigation. Again, it does appear, though, that this incident has been dealt with. The situation, the police are saying, is under control. Though they are not giving much detail in terms of these explosions that have been heard by eye-witnesses or how they brought this incident under control, Brooke.

[15:50:00] BALDWIN: So, Erin, let me just ask you. When you have police saying the situation is under control, that makes me wonder about the individual who placed these bombs or explosives. Do we know anything about the person who placed them or is that person in custody? Or neutralized? Have they said? Remy.

BONNAFFE: Not at the moment, Brooke, we simply do not know. There were reports on twitter of shots fired as well. We don't know if that was from the police or not. We simply do not know how they resolved the situation at present.

BALDWIN: Erin, thank you. I just looked at information that the emergency services are on-site. Michael Weiss, if I can continue picking your brain here as we've been covering different incidences, looking at what happened here in Brussels. What is protocol when people are responding to this kind of thing?

WEISS: Clear the area, first of all. There will be a manhunt on the way. Scanning tv footage. If the man detonated some kind of device, hopefully he'll be picked up, they'll get a physical description of him. There are reports and rumors floating around social media, some attributed to Belgian news outlets that there might have been shots fired. None of that can be confirmed at the moment. If there is an active situation, it appears it has been neutralized because the Belgian police are not in high alert mode.

BALDWIN: Belgium saying the individual has been neutralized at the Brussels train station.

WEISS: We don't know if that means he was shot and killed, or wrestled to the ground and arrested.

BALDWIN: The situation is under control, in other words.

WEISS: If the situation is under control, Belgium does not believe this is many-man endeavor. This was a one-man operation.

BALDWIN: You went back to Paris and Brussels, you know, you talk about the significance of the role of ISIS in Belgium, but also the potential for copycats?

WEISS: Potential for copycats, potential for just crazy people who want to cause chaos and harm. Remember after 9/11, people calling in bomb scares and anthrax scares. They thrived on the anarchy of the situation. Again, we saw yesterday in the U.K. an instance that at first blush might have seemed like an is-inspired attack, vehicular manslaughter slamming into a crowd, except that by all accounts, it appears to have been perpetrated by an individual who shouted, I want to kill all the Muslims. He turned into a multi-nationalist and xenophobe. People give the media a lot of grief saying, why don't you come out and say this is terrorism? The data doesn't always allow us to say that. Who wants to get ahead of themselves and claim something that in 24-hours time might not be the case? If you're asking my gut in this instance, because it's Brussels, because it's a transportation hub, and because this is ground zero for is' most significant and well-stocked network of European jihadists, I would be lying to you if I told you my spotty sense didn't --

BALDWIN: That's where it goes.


BALDWIN: These are pictures outside of Brussels, Belgium just outside one of the biggest train stations in town. There was reports of an explosion. Talking to eyewitnesses, he described hearing multi explosions. Now the individual responsible for this has been neutralized at this train station. Anthony May is still with us. Erin McLaughlin is still with us. So, individual neutralized, Erin. Do we know what that means?

MCLAUGHLIN: Not at present, Brooke. Belgian crisis center just tweeting out that soldiers inside the station neutralized this individual and not giving much more information as to why they neutralized him. We do know from eyewitnesses, though, that this incident was preceded by two small explosions. So, again, that being tweeted by the Belgian crisis center, in terms of what they mean by neutralize, unclear. We also know from early eyewitness reports on twitter that shots were fired. Not sure if they neutralized this individual by shooting him. That, again, is unclear, unconfirmed by authorities. But the situation does seem to be under control at the train station.

BALDWIN: Erin, thank you. Anthony may, same question for you just from a retired ATF perspective working scenes like this. When you hear the term neutralized, what do you think?

MAY: They've taken the perpetrator out, either in a gun battle. It didn't sound like it was something where he took his own self out. Typically, when we use the term neutralized, it means law enforcement has done their job and taken the individual out.

BALDWIN: Just on the police response, it seemed to be incredibly quick, and just given the climate in Europe right now, do you just have thoughts on that?

MAY: Well, I'm sure that what's happening all over Europe, and this is not Belgium's first rodeo on this, I'm sure they've gotten to where their rapid response teams are ready to go on a moment's notice, and it sounds like that has happened here to where they can gain control of what is typically an uncontrollable event.

BALDWIN: Again, according to Belgian media, the individual responsible for these explosions at this train station in Brussels has been neutralized, reporting that the situation is under control. But still, obviously scary for anyone trying to hop on a train at just about 10:00 at night in Brussels in relatively the city center. I'm talking to eyewitnesses, one reporting, or at least two, talking about a mid-explosion. Police have the whole area cordoned off. No one is coming or going in that train station for the foreseeable future. I'm talking to Michael Weiss in Europe. This is from one of the eyewitnesses, the fire there, and again, the individual neutralized.

WEISS: If it's just one guy, and you're looking at this situation that didn't seem all that for foreboding, scary as it may be, it didn't succeed in killing lots of people. If I had to guess at this point, I might say this could an amateur who was acting -- the cliche lone wolf needs to be retired, but let's just say a single individual who didn't quite know what he was doing, possibly connected to a European network, possibly not. Possibly just wanting to write his name is the stars and pledge whatever jihadi outfit he's pledging allegiance to. Why weren't there other people involved? Why wasn't there a multi-man team? If it was a suicide bomber, why did the explosion happen inside the train station and then he was neutralized somewhere else? Did he chicken out? Did he not detonate it inside a vest? Did he detonate it and run away?

BALDWIN: Your read on all of this in Brussels.

[15:55:00] WEISS: Brooke, I'm actually here in Brussels right now. Belgian authorities saying they're following some kind of explosion in the central station, that they had to neutralize one suspect. The fire started here in Belgium, also saying the explosion did not create any victims. Good news, it's an early stage in terms of the idea that nobody seems to have been killed or injured in whatever this incident was at the central station in Brussels tonight. But I can tell you there is significant concern about this given the uptick in attacks throughout Europe in recent days during the Ramadan period. But no word yet on motivation here, who could be behind this. Details are still coming in about what exactly happened just a little while ago in one of Brussels' main train stations.

BALDWIN: You're in Brussels, you're feeling it in Europe. We talked a lot about what happened in Paris and London. People are on edge.

WEISS: They are on edge. And the public is on edge, and I can tell you that the security and the police here in Brussels are on edge here as well. In March of last year, there was a major ISIS terrorist attack in the city, the same cell that was responsible for the Paris terrorist attack. Now, there has not been a major terrorist attack in Belgium since then. Part of that is to the hard work of law enforcement here following the attack. They went after the people responsible after the attack, managed to arrest a lot of people involved in that. But there has been significant concern for some time that more might be coming, that there might be other terrorist cells here at present in the capital. People start to come back from is territory in Syria and Iraq. That all being said, this is very, very early stages. We don't yet have full details about what happened at the central station. We don't yet have full details in terms of this being an actual attack.

BALDWIN: We're working on getting them. I'm up against a wall, Thanks so much for calling in from Brussels.