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Minute of silence held at airport and metro simultaneously
Emotional ceremonies were held on Friday morning at Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station in the EU quarter in honour of the lives lost to the terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016. The suicide bombings that morning killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more.
The airport ceremony was held in the departure hall, where the two terrorists detonated their bombs at about 8.00 on the day of the attacks. The names of the 16 people killed there were read out, followed by the song ‘Amazing Grace’.
At Maalbeek, where a third suicide bomber struck about 20 minutes later, the names of the 16 people who died in that location were also read aloud and music played. At 9.55 both locations observed a minute of silence simultaneously.
Several hundred people, including surviving victims, gathered at both locations. “Three years ago, 16 people list their lives here,” said An Van Hamme, spokesperson for transport authority MIVB, at the ceremony at Maalbeek. “Their names have been written on the station’s wall so that they will always remain in our memories.”
A commemoration was also held at Place Communale in Molenbeek. The mayor, Catherine Moureaux, joined hundreds of schoolchildren to honour the victims. The children had made drums to take part in the international initiative ‘Drums for peace’.
“In addition to dedicating this day to peace,” said Moureaux, “we also wish to dedicate it to the memory of all those who have lost their lives in countries at war or following the attacks that have been perpetrated around the world in recent years.”
While all three suicide bombers were killed, other suspects involved in the bombings have yet to go on trial. The investigation has identified 10 others at this point who are accessories or accomplices to the crime. That includes Mohamed Abrini who fled the airport after failing to detonate his bomb.
Abrini, caught on surveillance cameras running from the airport, became known as ‘the man in the hat’ and was the subject of an international manhunt in the weeks following the attacks. The federal prosecutor’s office has said that it hopes to try Abrini and the rest of the group next year and that the process will last at least six months.
Victims: ‘Deny till they die’
In related news, many surviving victims of the attacks have come forward this week to complain about the state’s handling of their cases. Only 36% of the more than 300 injured have received full compensation for their medical costs and related trauma.
The Belgian state had no policy regarding communicating with or compensating victims of terrorist incidents before the 2016 attacks. Victims say they have been forced to deal with insurance companies on their own, which often will not pay back costs associated with psychological assistance and which require piles of paperwork.
One victim of the airport bombing even went on hunger strike, which lasted 25 days until he was granted a meeting with the prime minister.
A police officer, Christian De Coninck, also took to the press this week, saying that his diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome was rejected by his workers’ compensation insurer because he was struck by the inability to cope months after the attack. “They refused any associated medical costs,” he told VRT. “ ‘Deny till they die,’ that is their motto.”
De Coninck was one of the first responders at Maalbeek metro station following the attacks. While he was capable of doing his job on the day itself, the experience haunted him in the coming months. He still cannot take a train into Brussels, like he used to do, he said. He is taking the insurer who denied his claim to court, with the help of his chief.
Jihad of Love
Family members of victims who did not survive the bombing have similar stories and accusations. Mohamed El Bachiri lost his wife in Maalbeek and touched the whole country with his public outcry for a ‘Jihad of Love’. His testimony on news programmes and ensuing book plead for the community to come together following such an event, rather than blame each other.
El Bachiri’s three children still require the help of a psychologist, but he is not compensated for all of the visits. “The government has just handed us over to the insurers,” he told VRT. “We don’t have the feeling that we are victims of a terrorist attack.”
He himself also continues to struggle with depression since the attack, he said. “I don’t always have the strength to fight every battle. We have just been abandoned.”
Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA