A Galway student was caught up in the horror that ensued when two bombs detonated in Brussels on Tuesday. Following on from the atrocity in Paris last November when 130 people were killed, 31 innocent citizens lost their lives after attacks at Brussels International Airport and a city metro station on Tuesday morning. The death toll continues to rise as 200 people were injured, many critically.
Galway man Luke Mac An Bháird, who is an Erasmus student at Ku Leuven University which is located outside Brussels, was waiting to board a flight home for the Easter holiday when the explosion occurred in the check-in area. He said that unsurprisingly the scenes in the aftermath were pure mayhem.
“There was just sheer panic. I was at my gate listening to music on headphones so I didn’t actually hear the bomb go off. All of a sudden people started running with their children and it was like a mass of people at once just running to the bottom of the gate because staff were shouting that another bomb was going to explode. Everyone was just screaming, it was the most surreal and terrifying moment of my life.”
The 22-year-old says the uncertainty about what was happening was the most frightening aspect of the situation.
“There were hundreds of people huddled at the bottom of the gate for about 20 minutes. Nobody knew what was going on. I just texted my family to let them know I was safe. Somebody shouted that they had seen on social media that there was another bomber nearby. There was a stampede for the exit. That was really scary because I was caught in the middle of all these people and was unsure of what was actually going on behind me. We managed to get out through the tunnel on to the runway.”
When word filtered through about the second bomb going off at Maelbeek Metro Station in the city centre, Mr Mac An Bhaird was also very worried about a friend from Carraroe who works in the European Parliament. “He lives in that area and uses the metro daily but thankfully he was ok.”
It is only now he is reflecting on how lucky he was to have escaped the airport explosion. “I was actually early for my flight and had just arrived at the gate. I had checked in online but had walked through that area about five minutes before the bomb went off. It’s when it’s all over and the quietness sets in, you start to think; if I had stopped off to go to the toilet or been held up, it could all have been very different. It is the shock of it all and the panic that I will never forget. I want to extend solidarity with the victims and all those injured. It was a horrible act of terror.”
He is looking forward to getting home to Ballinasloe and seeing his family, and is hoping to fly out of Brussels tomorrow. He is happy to complete the final term if staff at NUI Galway are satisfied it is the best course of action. “I am due to finish in June. I don’t want to pack it in after getting this far, so as long as the university is happy for me to go back I will. Of course my mother said straight-away that I should leave, but that is understandable. While Brussels is obviously under huge threat, I feel relatively safe at the Ku Leden as it is 20km from the city.”
Mr Mac An Bhaird, who is studying law and politics, remains hopeful that the EU will be able to get a handle on the crisis. “It is going to take a huge effort. Attacking IS does not seem to be working, I would hope the EU can get their foreign policies in order.”
In the wake of Tuesday’s events, Belgium has raised its terrorism alert to its highest level and three days of national mourning have been declared. As it stands, two of the suicide bombers have been named as brothers Khalid and Ibrahim El-Bakraoui. A third man who was caught on CCTV footage at the airport is allegedly the Paris bomb maker Najim Laachraoui, and he remains on the run.
In an article inside this paper, Ibrahim Noonan, Imam of Galway Mosque has strongly condemned the attacks.