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One Year Later, The Meaning of Brussels

The anniversary of the March 22, 2016 terrorist attacks is a time to reflect on the humanity of the capital of both Belgium and the European Union bureaucracy.

Security on Wednesday at Brussels airport
Security on Wednesday at Brussels airport
Jillian Deutsch

-Analysis-

As the headquarters of the European Union, Brussels has come to be seen as the epitome of a faraway faceless bureaucracy. One year ago today, with coordinated terrorist attacks in the city's metro and the international Zaventem airport that left 32 dead and more than 300 wounded, the Belgian capital was suddenly the most human place on Earth.


The suicide assault was carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS), and the perpetrators had links to the November 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130, and were similarly "homegrown" terrorists. The anniversary is a chance for the world to get another look at the people and sights of the city, rather than the gray corridors and paper shuffling of EU offices. Ceremonies around Brussels include a "minute of noise" in the metro, a speech from the Belgian king and dressing the Manneken Pis traditional city symbol like a fireman.


Still, Belgian officials told Reuters that there are unanswered questions about the attacks, and the country remains on "high alert." More armored police officers patrol the city; the airports have additional security measures; tourism still hasn't returned to its pre-terrorist attack levels. Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur told De Morgen newspaper that the city is struggling to figure out how to overcome the plague of extremist Islam in its midst.


For Michel and Brigitte Visart, today was not about politics, policing or religion. Instead, it was an occasion to write an open letter to the late Khalid El Bakraoui. The 27-year-old was the attacker at the Maelbeek metro station, whose bomb killed himself — and the Visart's 28-year-old daughter Lauriane. In the letter, published in the Belgian daily Le Soir, the Visarts speak directly to El Bakraoui, a Brussels native recruited into ISIS along with his brother, identified as one of the airport bombers.


"We never met you and we never will," the parents write. "Here we are, a year later. We, the direct or collateral victims of your ignoble act. We are alive, rebuilding our lives, standing together; and if we still cry, we do so with so many women and men of all backgrounds. Never, this past year, have we felt hatred. Never in our lives have we felt so much love."

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