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Je Suis Bruxelles

Belgian Students Shed Light on Tuesday's Aftermath

By Geneva Sambor; For The Clock
On March 28, 2016

"Je Suis Bruxelles"
Belgian Students Shed Light on Tuesday's Aftermath 

Geneva Sambor
For The Clock 

On Tuesday, March 21, 2016, suicide bombers attacked Brussels International Airport in Zaventem, Belgium as well as the Maalbeek metro station on the Wetstraat. Authorities reported to The New York Times that the two suicide bombers carried two large suitcases containing explosives to the third level of the airport. The explosions both went off at the check-in rows near the third level entrance.

The first update from Flandersnews reported 85 people injured in the airport. Most who were on the move from the first explosion fled directly toward the second explosion’s location between the check-in counters and the entrance by the departure screens.

Another update from The Guardian reports 20 people died while up to 130 were wounded at the metro station that day, and at least 11 were killed, 100 injured in Zaventem airport. Police asked everyone to stay indoors, and rail services reopened at 4 p.m. later that afternoon. The terrorist level has now been raised to level four out of five across the country, and Belgian authorities declared three days of national mourning.

Being a former resident of Belgium, I interviewed three residents of Antwerp to share their reactions with The Clock staff. Cities surrounding Brussels continue to be affected by the attacks, and Antwerp is just 35 minutes away from Zaventem airport. Regarding the current state of transportation in Belgium, Het Laatste Nieuws reports that 225 additional soldiers have been called to Brussels, bringing the number of soldiers present there to a thousand. The city of Antwerp’s tram stop lines 33, 50, 51 and 52 do not stop at the airport in Deurne. The majority of train rails have been limiting their stops or rerouting altogether.

Natalie Jubien, Dutch/French resident of Ekeren, Belgium said, “When stepping onto any type of public transport, everyone has an eye on you just to be safe, and in return you keep an eye on them.”

“I make sure to end all of my conversations with my family with I love you, just in case something were to happen. Daily I have about an hour and a half of travel by public transport, and in that time anything can happen,” she said.

In November 2015, the Belgian authorities placed 300 extra military personnel in sensitive locations around Belgium’s major cities, including Antwerp, after the Paris attacks. This amount has been increased further in light of the recent events.

“Around the entrance and exit of the trams, there used to be about two soldiers and a few police men patrolling the neighborhood,” Jubien said. “Now on every platform there are two fully armed soldiers, two fully armed policemen, and two or three fully armed policemen patrolling between the entrance, exit and platforms.”

Kaneesha Banker, Indian resident of Mechelen, Belgium said, “I had always thought of Belgium as being a relatively safe country with no possible threats, and with these attacks that belief is fading.” Banker studies International Relations at King’s College London.

“With the last election [in Belgium] having shown a growing percent increase in extreme right wing populist parties, given the attacks and that are due to the IS, nationalism and xenophobia will be exacerbated, and the parties will use this as their propaganda against a cosmopolitan community,” she said.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel tweeted, “We will defend and protect our values and freedom. We are confronted with a barbaric enemy.

But we are determined and united.” This leadership has helped Belgians to set a tone of determination and pride as they press forward from Tuesday’s horrific event. Ann-Sophie Franckx, Belgian native and resident of Ekeren, Belgium said, “The bigger question that has to be asked is, what past decisions allowed us to get to this point of instability, and how can we prevent anything like this from ever happening again?”

Franckx currently studies International Business at University College Karel de Grote, and shared her knowledge on her subject matter. “Once the shock of the events has passed, the political agendas will come out again. This is when I suspect. We will start to see a lot of division within our country.”

“We know we have had problems with Jihadist radicalization in suburb areas of Brussels such as Molenbeek. However, this is vastly exaggerated within international news as well,” she said.

All three young women agree that the Belgian citizens must stand together. Jubien said, “Having countries acknowledge what happened and offer their support in any way possible means a great deal to us.”

“We have to keep promoting togetherness within our country,” said Franckx. “Only unity will show Daesh [Islamic State terrorists] that we cannot be broken. Now is not a time to instill fear. We should not allow for bigotry and racism to take hold and divide us. It simply leads to more instability, fear and violence.”

Belgium will be on high alert until the cabinet decides a more permanent plan of action. Justice Minister Koen Greens is skeptical. “Level four is being maintained, exactly because of a number of things that have been established in the course of the investigation,” he said. “But it’s clear we can’t keep this up for very long because it requires too much readiness.”

The residents of Belgium are prepared to work together for a safer environment, and to be more self-aware. Banker said, “Nothing can make us weaker. In fact we have come out stronger and more together from this attack.”

Art tribute work submitted by Geneva Sambor. The above silhouette represents some of the major buildings in Brussels. 


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