Belgian minister resigns after airport security criticized

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium's transport minister resigned Friday after a secret European Union report detailing lapses in airport security oversight was leaked in the wake of the deadly March 22 bombings at Brussels Airport and subway.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said after his talks with Transport Minister Jacqueline Galant, "the minister presented her resignation to the King and the King accepted it."

Galant said the leak was part of a vendetta against her by a disgruntled senior transport official and insisted that she always paid very close attention to security concerns.

The confidential EU document from last year was made public by two Belgian opposition parties. It called the oversight of security measures at the nation's airports flawed and cited serious deficiencies in the way safety checks were managed.

The revelations came after the March 22 attacks in Brussels killed 32 people, including 16 at the national airport, and left 270 people wounded. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Galant says she had not seen the EU report but Michel said "a summary of this report was discussed and sent to the minister's cabinet in June 2015."

No immediate replacement was named for Galant but Michel said he would do so as soon as possible.

The suicide attacks in the peak morning travel period have shaken the Belgian government, police and judiciary. The Belgian parliament has set up an inquiry to look into any shortcomings in the handling of the bombings. Belgium's interior and justice ministers volunteered to step down last month, but their resignations were rejected.

"The government will work in perfect cooperation with the commission of inquiry so that all transparency can be ensured and to draw lessons for the future," Michel said. "The security of all Belgians is a priority for this government."

At a hastily organized press conference, a defiant Galant rejected allegations that she had been lax about security.

"If there's an area I always paid attention to it's that one," she said.

She told reporters she is the victim of a "media crusade" organized by a senior transport official whose attacks on her would not end until she resigned. Galant accused her foes of "riding the current wave of worry" provoked by the Brussels attacks.

The EU carries out around 35 safety inspections at European airports each year. The restricted report, dated April 28, 2015, details shortcomings in the supervision of security in the Brussels Airport section that travelers enter once they have cleared security checks and around the planes themselves.

The suicide bombers blew themselves up in the departure area of Belgium's main international airport, part of the facility that was not covered in the EU report.

Brussels Airport is one of the largest in Europe and a major European travel hub that handles 23.5 million passengers each year. It was shut down by the bombings for more than a week and has been struggling to get back up to capacity ever since.

An unannounced strike by Belgian air traffic controllers this week caused further transport chaos.