Brussels was on lockdown for five days this past week, terror alert to all-time high; metro, museums and most of the cafes and restaurants in central Brussels shut.
Saturday November 21st – first day of the emergency alert – all shopping malls were evacuated, Christmas market preparations were halted but, despite everything, Grand Place got its traditional Christmas tree; it has been closely guarded since:
And this couple went ahead with their wedding and they couldn’t have chosen a more memorable day:
Sunday November 22nd – tension reached the same all-time high as the terror alert. Heavily armed guards were telling residents and tourists to stay inside. Radisson Blu Hotel was particularly heavily guarded, guests allowed to enter but not leave. That was just two days after the deadly attack in Radisson Blu in Bamako Mali, that left 27 people dead. No incident was reported in Brussels.
Cinemas and theatres remained closed, concerts were cancelled and in the early evening hours, twitter exploded: police were carrying out multiple raids in various districts, including the notorious Molenbeek, henceforth world-famous as the ”cradle of jihadism”, ”crucible of terror”, ”jihadi conveyor belt”, since it has now been established that more than 80 people suspected as Islamic militants live in the area.
Police asked the residents to keep ”radio silence” about ongoing raids. So Brussels put its best sense of humour in action and flooded twitter with pictures of cats; hashtag #BrusselsLockdown was trending for the rest of the evening. Striking was the virtual absence of dogs; in a city of dog lovers where pavements, parks and parking lots resemble dog poop minefields one would expect more support; but the little terrorists had obviously gone into hiding.
While twitter was getting purrrrrified, I thought I’d contribute to the merriness with this mashup of Rita dancing to ”Staying Alive”:
Monday November 23rd – lockdown day 3. Despite the overnight raids and numerous arrests, the main suspect involved in the Paris attacks, a Brussels-born Frenchman apparently hiding here, was still on the run.
Schools and universities were shut. Children were missing classes and parents were missing work. European Institutions’ remote access systems were crushing after an unprecedented number of people tried to connect from home simultaneously. Meetings were cancelled, conferences were postponed but no amount of inconvenience could lessen the Belgian Sense of Humour. Thanking the people for helping them out, the Police twitted:
For the cats that helped us last night – help yourselves!
Tuesday November 24th – lockdown day 4. Armed troops and vehicles patrolling the city has become a familiar sight. So familiar that the residents started treating the guards with food and drinks:
Meanwhile, it was announced that schools would open on Wednesday and metro would start operating gradually, once stations were secured. Since then, life in Brussels returns – slowly and gradually – back to normal. Public events are being considered on case by case basis, the Christmas Market was allowed to open.
Not surprisingly, the authorities are criticized for everything from overreacting to being too slow to act, to allowing Molenbeek to become a ”jihadi central”. Granted, the complexity of the political system and law enforcement does not allow for quick moves: Brussels has 19 communes or districts and 6 police zones, each with its own regulations. Decisions must be taken in agreement with all the 19 mayors and 6 heads of police – and that, in a city of 1,5 million. No wonder coordination leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps the time has come for the various authorities to put aside their power games and optimize Brussels’ police force by centralising it into a single zone. While we all appreciate the effort to protect our lives and, I for one, would much rather be inconvenienced than dead, this is the time for lessons to be learned, Brussels!
Otherwise, as Geluck has rightly put it:
There’s not a soul out there!
All images from twitter.
Brussels 21-28 November 2015