Brussels Awakens to a New Reality: Soldiers on the Streets, Heavy Security on Metro

Residents of Brussel’s ‘quiet, cosmopolitan’ Schaerbeekneighborhood where explosives were found in a police raid don’t want to be stigmatized like Molenbeek.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Belgian soldiers patrol in central Brussels as police searched the area during a continued high level of security following the recent deadly Paris attacks, Belgium, November 23, 2015.
Belgian soldiers patroling central Brussels on Monday as police continue searches for terror suspects.Credit: Reuters
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

BRUSSELS – The residents of Belgium’s capital city woke up Wednesday morning to a new reality, on the day after the pair of murderous terrorist attacks at the airport and subway station that killed at least 31 people.

Armed soldiers at the entrance to the train station check everyone’s bags and large office buildings in the city closed their main entrances, and now allow entry only through a guarded side entrance. Many workers simply stayed home and began their Easter holiday early.

The Belgians have now been forced to deal with the new revelations coming out of the investigations of the bombings. The bombers at the airport and metro were very well-known to the security services and collaborated with one of the planners of the attacks four months ago in Paris, Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last Friday in Brussels. Nonetheless, they still managed to evade police and enter the airport terminal Tuesday with large explosive devices and blow themselves up, killing many.

Belgian media identified the three people seen in the security camera video entering the airport with suitcases, which seem to have held the bombs. Two brothers carried out suicide bombings at the airport and on the metro, Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui, who were both known for years as being involved in violent crime, and recently joined a group affiliated with Abdeslam and ISIS.

The brothers rented some of the apartments in which Abdeslam and other members of the terrorist cell that carried out the attacks in Paris hid. The third man in the video, who seems to have fled the terminal without harm before one of the El Bakraoui brothers blew himself up there, was Najim Laachraoui, who was known to authorities as one of Abdeslam’s partners in planning attacks.

Tuesday night, just after midnight, the police opened the roads in the Schaerbeek neighborhood of Brussels, north of the center city, which were closed during the searches conducted there in what seems to have been the apartment used by the terrorist cell that carried out the airport bombings. The information on the location of the apartment was received after the bombing from a taxi driver who said he picked up the three suspects from the apartment, and they aroused his suspicions when they did not allow the driver to load their suitcases into the taxi, and insisted on doing it themselves.

The residents of Rue Max Roos learned for the first time that one of the neighboring apartments contained explosive devices only after 9 A.M., when they suddenly saw security forces wearing jeans and carrying weapons surrounding the building.

“I was just on my way to go to work,” said Rashid, a water engineer who lives nearby. “I was in shock, no one expected that such a thing could happen here in our neighborhood. It’s a mixed area in which everyone lives peacefully. They are not from our neighborhood, they only rented an apartment here.”

Local residents do not want to be stigmatized in the same way as the residents of Molenbeek, where a large number of the terrorists lived and operated. “It is really a very quiet and cosmopolitan place,” says Tufiq, a computer technician who has lived in the neighborhood for 22 years. “There are Muslims here but also people from all parts of Belgian society. I, like everyone, am in shock from the attack.”

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