Brussels Reacts: After Abdeslam Arrest, Citizens Expected Peace, Not Attacks

Last week, when Salah Abdeslam was arrested by authorities in Brussels, Belgium, the people of Mollenbeek breathed a sigh of relief. They thought it was over, that their lives in Brussels would go back to normal after months of heightened tensions, police raids, and security lockdowns. As the Inquisitr reported today, they were wrong. The attacks in Brussels today left more than 30 dead, and more than 200 wounded, but the people of Brussels continue to pray for peace.

Speaking with the Guardian, the people of Brussels spoke out today, telling their personal stories and sharing what it’s like to live in a truly international city besieged on all sides by ISIS recruiters, terror attacks, and police suspicion.

“I was standing here at the police line watching when they caught [Abdeslam]. It has been like a bad film here for the past two months – there have been so many police. People were stunned that Abdeslam was hiding here, people thought he’d be in Syria, or Holland. Far away but not in Belgium,” said Bilal Benzema, 21, a student and resident of Brussels speaking with the Guardian.

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Benzema isn’t the only one who was shocked to discover that Abdeslam had been hiding out in Brussels. Even the police suspected that he’d moved on to Syria or elsewhere, and they reportedly caught his trail by accident. After Brussels police found an ISIS safehouse in the Mollenbeek district of Brussels, they moved in and caught Abdeslam and several others, revealing for the first time that the ISIS cell responsible for the Paris terror attacks last November was extensive, it was busy, and it was in Brussels.

“These attacks are horrific. My 16-year-old nephew would normally take the metro at [the time of the attacks]. Everyone in [Brussels], no matter what their religion or roots, has been targeted in this attack. We’re panicked here. I really hope we are not stigmatized for being ordinary law-abiding Muslims,” said a Muslim mother of four today.

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Today on the streets of Brussels, that’s the mood. Brussels has been in the crosshairs of international law enforcement ever since the Paris attacks were traced to a cell operating out of the Mollenbeek district, but the city itself had been spared the horror of a terror attack. The people of Brussels were the victims of the attack today, despite reports that some international travelers, including four Mormon missionaries from the United States, being included among the wounded. These are the people who live in Brussels, and they’re the ones who today are locking their doors and watching as police helicopters hover overhead, scouring Brussels’ familiar streets for the men responsible for today’s deadly attacks.

“After the relief at Salah Abdeslam’s arrest, people expected a kind of let-up. But we realize now that abdeslam was not the last of the cell. He might be the end of the Paris attacks network, but [ISIS] has many cells and networks, not just one,” said Sarah Turine, deputy mayor of Mollenbeek near Brussels, who is still reeling from this morning’s attacks.

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Belgium, and Brussels in particular, has been criticized by international authorities who view the city as a hotbed of jihadi activity. The Guardian reports that Belgium has the highest proportion of jihadi fighters leaving for Syria per capita, higher than any other European state, and that Brussels is at the heart of that statistic.

The ISIS operatives captured in wake of the Paris attacks, and those detained by police in last week’s raids, were largely Belgian-born, a fact that isn’t lost on the people of Brussels, who have been living under heavy scrutiny over the last few months. The streets have been tense, quiet, and Brussels was holding its collective breath while the police scoured the poor district of Mollenbeek for any trace of ISIS activity.

“We didn’t think something would happen so close to the arrest, it’s still a shock. But they want to divide us. We have to stand united,” said Sarah Turine.

[Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]