Brussels’ Maelbeek metro station reopened amid tight security, a little more than a month after terrorist attacks on the city killed 32 people and injured hundreds more.
Terrorist Khalid El-Bakraoui blew himself up at Maalbeek metro station which happens to be near the EU headquarters at at 07:11 GMT on March 22. An hour earlier, two other Islamic State suicide attackers struck Zaventem airport departure lounge in attacks claimed by Islamic State. The metro and airport bombs killed a total of 32 people and wounded 300 in the worst ever terror attack in Europe.
The attacks in Brussels, home to the European Union and NATO headquarters, came four months after 130 people were killed in similar attacks in Paris. The attacks on the two cities appear to be linked.
Since March 22, Maelbeek station had remained shut while operating hours in other stations were reduced owing to lack of security staff.
On reopening day April 25, 2016, Monday, passengers streamed into the station and appeared to be tense and emotional. The scene remained calm, with commuters expressing patience over the month-long closure, despite criticism of Belgium’s handling of the attacks.
“It is rather difficult to come here again,” said one commuter. “We are still thinking about the people who died here and I think it will take a long time before we are back to normal life here.”
Armed guards and sniffer dogs stood outside the station and on the platforms. Security from Brussels’ transport network also patrolled the trains in a bid to reassure the passengers. Families of the victims were allowed special access to the station on Saturday to mourn the dead, before the official reopening to commuters. It was the first opportunity they had to visit the place where their loved ones died.
The attacks had destroyed one of eight tiled portraits on the station’s walls. In its place, a temporary white board remembrance wall was erected where people could write messages and scribble notes in memory of the victims. This large white board was full of messages, and peace symbols posted by survivors and the families of victims.
The messages expressing the poignancy of their feelings were in a multitude of languages, French, Flemish, English, Arabic, Dutch and Spanish and offered an insight into the suffering caused by the bombings, and the lives lost.
“Let’s cherish the life that surrounds us,” said a note signed Patricia.
One message in French tells of a daughter. “I love my little Sabrina. I miss you. Go in Peace. Mom.”
Another pays tribute to the mother of a Polish family. “Dearest Mother, you will always stay in our hearts. Your loving children, father and the whole family.”
The exterior of the station was also turned into a makeshift memorial as people placed dozens of bouquets outside the entrance.
The reopening of the Maelbeek station is a symbolic moment of healing for the city’s 1.1 million residents who are still reeling from the carnage of the attacks. It signals a return to normalcy after the shock of the devastation.
The EU has been functioning normally and the countries football matches, cycling tours and beer festivals are all carrying on. Brussels airport, though started operations three weeks ago, is set to resume full operations by June.
Things are back to normal perhaps, except for the sight of armed troops on the street.