What’s Doing in Brussels After the Attacks
BRUSSELS— On March 22 of this year, bombs packed with nails were detonated in coordinated strikes at the city’s airport and a metro station. Including the three attackers, 35 people were killed by two blasts at the Brussels airport departure area around 8 a.m. and one in the Maalbeek metro station shortly after 9.
International travel warnings to avoid Belgium came swiftly while residents were told to avoid “unnecessary movement.”
Brussels, which had undergone a lockdown eight days after the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, had begun to recover from what the newspaper Haaretz had described as “an atmosphere of war.” Life had come to a complete standstill. The few shops, cafés, and hotels that remained open reported a 90% decline in business despite the lack of competition.
Remembering the 1985 terrorist attacks in Rome and Vienna quite vividly, I felt, as a citizen of the European Union, that I had to do something, despite living in New York City.
I got on a plane, Brussels Airlines Flight 502 from New York to Brussels, despite the protestations of friends and family.
Not surprisingly, my flight was far from full although not as empty as in prior days; the Brussels Airlines agent told me that, in the period since flights had resumed after the bombing, the flights had been going out completely empty in business class and not very full in coach.
The cabin crew working in business on my flight had fortunately not been at the airport that fateful day (a dozen Brussels Airlines passengers in the terminal were injured that day as were five staff; one staff member remains in hospital, due to serious burns, at the time of publication). “It is very very sad,” one flight attendant said to me after learning of my mission.
Roughly two weeks after the attacks, I stood at the entrance to the Brussel Centraal, the Brussels Central Station, one of the three main railway stations in Belgium. Armed soldiers with machine guns were keeping watch outside the entrance although they were not stopping or questioning those who entered. Inside, it was quieter than usual, but trains were running and locals – tourists were noticeably absent – were going about their routines.