Kerry pledges solidarity with Belgium as nations confirm dead, injured

AP, Reuters

At least two American citizens have been confirmed killed in this week’s attacks in Brussels, a U.S. official said Friday, as Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the city to express his condolences to the Belgian people.

Speaking after meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Kerry said the “United States is praying and grieving with you for the loved ones of those cruelly taken from us, including Americans, and for the many who were injured in these despicable attacks.”

He did not give a specific number but a senior official said the families of two Americans had been informed of their deaths in Tuesday’s attacks. The official, who was not authorized to speak to the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, did not have further details.

British officials, meanwhile, confirmed that U.K. citizen David Dixon, a computer programmer living in Brussels, was killed in the bombing on the Brussels subway.

Officials said seven other British nationals were injured, too.

Dixon’s family has asked for privacy and indicated no statements will be made.

A Chinese national is also reported to have been killed, according to the Chinese Embassy in Belgium. He was identified only by his surname — Deng. No further details were released.

The French foreign ministry said on Friday on its Twitter account that a French citizen was killed and 12 French nationals wounded, with three in a severe condition.

The Netherlands’ foreign minister said in a statement that three Dutch citizens were the victims in the bombings — a woman from the eastern city of Deventer and a brother and sister from the southern Limburg province who live in the United States. He did not release their identities.

Kerry said, “The United States stands firmly with Belgium and with the nations of Europe in the face of this tragedy.”

The world will not relent in its fight against the Islamic State group, which has claimed the attacks, he said.

“We — all of us representing countless nationalities — have a message for those who inspired or carried out the attacks here or in Paris, or Ankara, or Tunis, or San Bernardino, or elsewhere: We will not be intimidated,” he said. “We will not be deterred. We will come back with greater resolve — with greater strength — and we will not rest until we have eliminated your nihilistic beliefs and cowardice from the face of the Earth.”

Talking to reporters, Kerry said the reason the Islamic State group is resorting to actions outside the Middle East was that its fantasy of a caliphate was collapsing before their eyes.

Michel thanked Kerry for his visit, calling it a powerful message of solidarity. “It is very important for us today to receive your support,” he said. He offered condolences for the American victims and vowed to step up counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S. and others.

Elsewhere in Brussels, thousands gathered at Place de la Bourse to place candles and leave flowers, city archives staff were peeling rain-sodden messages of solidarity off the ground, drying them with paper towels, and putting them into plastic bins.

The plaza has become a memorial site, covered in flags from a dozen countries and messages in multiple languages.

Belgium’s nuclear agency has withdrawn the entry badges of some staff and has denied access to other people amid concern the country’s nuclear plants could be a target for extremists.

Nuclear control agency spokeswoman Nele Scheerlinck said Friday that “in recent days, several people have been refused access to the nuclear sites.”

But she said the move “is not necessarily linked with the terrorist attacks.”

In France, officials said a man arrested by intelligence agents in a Paris suburb has connections to the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks.

Two French officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the man detained Thursday is Reda Kriket, a 34-year-old Frenchman wanted since January on suspicion of links to terrorism. France’s interior minister said the man was in the “advanced stages” of a plot to attack a target in France.

A Belgian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said Kriket was convicted in absentia in July along with Abdelhamid Abaaoud and others for being part of a recruiting network for jihad in Syria.

Authorities have identified Abaaoud as the ringleader of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. He died in a police raid a few days later.

France’s interior minister said there was no evidence “at this stage” to link Kriket to last year’s Paris attacks or this week’s attacks in Brussels. But a French police official said explosives and multiple weapons, including at least one assault rifle, were found in an hours-long search of a home in Argenteuil.