In 2016, more than 30 people were killed when Islamic State suicide bombers detonated their explosives in Brussels airport and a metro station in the city. The attack came at a time of high alert in Europe after members of the terror group killed more than 130 people in a gun and bomb attack in Paris. The atrocity in the French capital was at the forefront of people’s minds – so when Sebastien Bellin, a former professional basketball player, and Alex Rossi, a Sky News journalist, heard an enormous blast in Brussels airport the two men knew they were caught up in a terror attack. What they didn’t know is that more bombers were out there and they were yet to detonate their explosives.
Sebastien and Alex have shared their incredible story in Terror in Brussels Airport, the eighth episode of StoryCast ’21, a Sky News podcasts series telling 21 extraordinary personal stories some of the biggest news events of the century.
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Sebastien Bellin was set fly to New York for a business meeting when he walked into Brussels airport on the morning of 22 March 2016.
Meanwhile, Sky News journalist Alex Rossi was in the duty free shop buying chocolate for his children as he waited to board a flight to Israel.
Both men were used to travelling and had been through the pre-flight routine dozens of times before.
What they didn’t know is that this time three IS terrorists were walking calmly through the airport wearing suicide vests packed with nail bombs.
Sebastien, a retired professional basketball player who had captained the Belgian national team, was checking in for his flight when the first bomb went off just 50 yards away.
A few months earlier IS terrorists had killed more than 130 people in a series of shooting and bomb attacks in Paris, and now, as parts of the ceiling came crashing down, Sebastien feared the worst.
The 47-year-old from Brussels, Belgium, picks up the story: “My intuition said terrorists were going to come in and start shooting up. Or that there would be another bomb where everyone was rushing to, so I decided to rush to the security check-in counters.
“I was zig-zagging people but a second terrorist was going towards the main exit. I passed him and he detonated the bomb.”
Sebastien was just five to 10 metres away from the terrorist when he was thrown across the airport and knocked unconscious by the second explosion.
Alex had already checked-in when the first bomb went off and had crouched down near a partition as he tried to work out what had happened. He was in the same position of relative safety during the second blast.
The seasoned journalist had reported from conflict zones many times in his career and knew what a bomb sounded like.
He says during Terror in Brussels Airport: “We kind of knew what was happening, but of course we had no idea of the extent of the carnage.”
While Alex was so far unharmed, Sebastien was not so lucky.
The retired basketball player said: “When I came round the ringing in my ears was just unbearable and I saw hell around me. Just complete hell.
“Dead people and a lot of dust, a lot of debris. My legs weren’t responding and I could see holes into my legs in both legs… I was hanging onto my left leg because I thought it was detached.”
Sebastien had built a career playing sport at the highest level, but now, unable to walk and with blood pouring from his wounds, the former athlete was facing the biggest fight of his life.
Amid all the death and destruction, he would somehow have to find a way to make it out of the airport alive.
What Sebastien and Alex didn’t know at this stage was that there was a third bomber who had not yet detonated their explosive vest.
Find about what happens next in this incredible episode of StoryCast ’21.
You can listen to Terror in Brussels Airport here.