Brussels Commemorates Attack Anniversary With Both Silence and Noise


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A ceremony on Wednesday in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek commemorated the first anniversary of attacks in the Belgian capital region.

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Yves Herman/Reuters

Belgians of all political stripes and backgrounds united in their small, divided country on Wednesday to commiserate and remember the coordinated suicide bombings that struck Brussels one year ago, killing 32 people and injuring more than 320. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The first two blasts ripped through the Brussels airport on the morning of March 22, 2016, turning a busy travel hub in the heart of Europe into a scene of carnage. Then, while bloody-faced passengers were being evacuated from the airport, a bomb went off miles away in the Maelbeek subway station at the peak of rush hour, disfiguring some commuters so badly that coroners struggled to identify them.

Befitting a cosmopolitan capital where the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are based, the victims in the attacks came not just from Belgium but from a number of other countries as well, including China, India, Morocco and the United States. Among them were a Belgian filmmaker, a Swedish illustrator, a Congolese business school graduate and father of two young girls, a Chinese entrepreneur, a Belgian Muslim teacher and mother of three, and a couple from the United States who had come to Europe in search of adventure.

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Commuters observed a minute of silence on Wednesday.

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Yves Herman/Reuters

A large crowd gathered at the airport on Wednesday to observe a minute of silence at 7:58 a.m., the time when the first explosion convulsed the departure terminal. Among them were King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, Prime Minister Charles Michel, and relatives of victims. Baggage carousels froze, takeoffs and landings were held off and all other activity at the airport ceased for the tribute. The names of the dead were read to the plaintive accompaniment of a single cello.

The anniversary dominated Belgian newspapers on Wednesday. Le Soir, a leading daily, referred to “that day in March where we lost our innocence.”

In Belgium, a country divided into Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south, the commemoration was a rare moment of the two communities coming together.

Speaking on the eve of the anniversary, Mr. Michel called for European countries to do a better job coordinating their counterterrorism surveillance, and he commended surviving victims for not giving in to hate.

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The scene at the Brussels airport shortly after twin bombings last year.

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Ketevan Kardava/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Some politicians were probably too lax about the rise of an extremist, fundamentalist, radical ideology,” he told Reuters. “That was a lesson for European democracy.”

In a powerful and defiant gesture, the Brussels transit authority called for commuters at the Maelbeek station to applaud and make noise at 9:11 a.m., the time when the bomb ripped through the station a year earlier. The noise was meant as an affirmation of life, to show “that we have not forgotten, but remain standing against hate and terror,” the authority said.

President Trump once publicly called Brussels “a hellhole,” but the city has shown resilience over the last year, even as the scars from the attacks exposed endemic weaknesses in Belgian law enforcement and a lack of social cohesion. But soldiers continue to patrol the streets, and the specter of radicalization still hangs over Molenbeek, a gritty immigrant neighborhood of Brussels that has been trying to shed its reputation as an incubator for European extremism.

Near the heart of the European quarter of the city, a large sculpture by the Belgian sculptor Jean-Henri Compère was unveiled on Wednesday. Titled “Wounded but Still Standing in the Face of the Unthinkable,” the 66-foot-long sculpture consists of two stainless steel slabs, crushed and pocked with holes, bending upward toward the sky in a gesture of hope.

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