Police were on high alert on Tuesday, tightening security following terrorist attacks in Brussels in which two Cypriots were among those injured in separate blasts at the airport and a metro station close to EU institutions.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides saida meeting chaired by Police Chief Zacharias Chrysostomou had been held in the wake of the news from the Belgian capital.
“The police are on high alert and are monitoring the whole situation,” said Angelides, adding that security had been upped many months ago in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks last November.
Cyprus is in constant contact with security services abroad, he added.
Two Cypriots were injured during the explosions in Brussels, the foreign ministry said, one woman and one man, a statement confirmed.
The ministry said a woman, Mariel Voutounou, was injured in the explosion at the airport and was taken to a military hospital where she was visited by an official from Cyprus’ permanent representation in Brussels, and has been offered consular assistance. The woman’s injuries were not life-threatening. She had been travelling abroad, with a transit stop in Brussels.
The second Cypriot, Andreas Charalambous, was slightly injured in the Maelbeek metro blast but suffered only minor abrasions and did not need hospitalisation, the ministry added. He works for the European Commission.
Other Cypriots living and working in Brussels expressed their shock over Tuesday’s events.
Efi Anastasiou, 28, who works at the European Commission building told the Cyprus Mail her office is just 200 metres from the Maelbeek metro station where one of the explosions happened and where 20 people were killed and over 100 injured.
“I didn’t see or feel the explosion myself, but walking to work I saw a lot of people gathered outside the station,” Anastasiou said.
“I didn’t think much of it at the time but my boyfriend who takes the metro from there every day – thankfully today he went there later than usual – walked by there and saw the people who were injured and the medics… “
Anastasiou, who has worked in Brussels for three years, also lives in the same area so usually walks to work. She said a lot of her colleagues were in shock knowing that they were in the metro station just minutes before the explosion.
“We are all shocked…in general people can’t work today. But at the same time no one was let out or in the buildings.”
She said they were told later in the afternoon that they could leave if they wished but could not go back inside. “Before, you could just hear sirens and police everywhere. Now it’s quieter”.
The attacks have not made Anastasiou want to leave Brussels, not only because she does not want to disrupt her way of life, but also “because this could be anywhere…not just in Brussels. So go where really?”
Anastasiou also said that she was not impressed with the fact that the attacks happened at a time when the levels of security were already quite high.
“There have been soldiers all around town the past four months but it hasn’t really made me personally feel safer,” she said. “Salah Abdeslam has been here for four months and intelligence did not pick up on that.”
“I’m hoping that they will go after them with much more force now,” she added.
AKEL MEP Takis Hadjigeorgiou told CNA from Brussels that he and his colleagues were all fine and were at the European Parliament building when the news hit that there had been explosions at the airport. All EP staff were told to stay in the building under tight security, he said.
“It seems that we are living in a time when states and the security apparatus are failing to protect people. Terrorists are a step ahead,” he said.
DISY MEP Lefteris Christoforou described the atmosphere in Brussels as “ground zero” in terms of travel and said the coming days would be difficult not only in terms of getting around “but also because of the extent of the attacks and where they were carried out”, he said, referring to the airport and the metro station, which was close to EU institutions, and the fact that they took place at rush hour.
Christoforou said all of his Cypriot colleagues and compatriots he knows in Brussels were fine. The MEP said he planned to leave Brussels on Wednesday, through a third country if necessary as the EP was winding down in any case due to the Catholic Easter weekend. He added that the response to such acts of terrorism is not to appear intimidated and to “continue living our lives”.
Another Cypriot MEP, AKEL’s Neoclis Sylikiotis told the Cyprus Mail he had been in London and about to board the Eurostar train back to Brussels on Tuesday morning when he heard the news. The Eurostar was cancelled in the wake of the attacks. Sylikiotis is now due to fly directly back to Cyprus on Wednesday, he said. “The whole thing is terrible,” he added.
In Cyprus, Belgian citizen Bernard Musyck who teaches economics at Frederick University in Nicosia, told the Cyprus Mail he had been told about the attacks in the morning by a friend on Skype and was desperate to contact his family in the Belgian capital. “The mobile networks were down but they are back up now,” he told the Cyprus Mail.
He has since spoken to his family who are all fine. “My brother works three kilometres from the airport and my sister-in-law two kilometres from there,” he said. “They had arrived at work before it happened.
The whole country has now come to a standstill. We are all shocked.”
President Nicos Anastasiades tweeted earlier on Tuesday: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of #Belgium and with the families of those killed or injured by the heinous terrorist attacks.”
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci tweeted: “Humanity continues to face the horror of terrorism in different parts of the world. I extend my heartfelt condolences to #Belgium & the #EU”
Shortly afterwards the presidential palace issued a statement saying the Cyprus government “condemns with abhorrence today’s terrorist attacks in Brussels which resulted in the death of innocent people and the wounding of many others”.
“Such cowardly acts which aim at innocent people, provoke the repugnance of the international community. Such cowardly acts succeed only to forge the will for decisive action on the part of the international community to fight terrorism,” it added.
It said the president had issued orders to the competent Cypriot authorities to provide every assistance and facilities to any Cypriot citizens injured in the attacks.
Meanwhile Cyprus airports operator Hermes said in a statement that there were no scheduled direct flights to Brussels or vice versa on Tuesday. “The traveling public is asked to communicate with their airlines for future scheduled flights,” it said. The airport in Brussels has been shut down until at least Wednesday morning, Reuters reported.
“Hermes airports is closely following the tragic events unfolding in Brussels and expresses sincere condolences to the families and relatives of the victims of terrorist attacks.”
It also said the operator was working in close cooperation with state services on security. A meeting was being held a police headquarters.
The foreign ministry said the Embassy of Cyprus in Belgium and the Permanent Representative of Cyprus to the EU were in contact with the competent authorities in Belgium for additional information.
Also Cypriot citizens are in Brussels requested to strictly follow the instructions of the security authorities, it added.
Those who have relatives who are in Brussels for holidays or work, and wish to speak with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should contact by phone +35722801000 , +3227395111 , cell phone +35799660129 and e-mail [email protected] and [email protected]