‘Normality’ in Brussels amid hunt for Paris suspects

Residents of the Belgian capital tell Al Jazeera that life is continuing as usual for many despite state of alert.

Belgian army armoured vehicle stands parked in front of the central railway station in Brussels
Belgium has ordered soldiers and armed police officers on to the streets of Brussels in response to the threat [AP]

As Belgium extends the lockdown of its capital Brussels for another week, those in the city have told Al Jazeera life is continuing as normal for many of its residents. 

Brussels stays on high alert as lockdown extended

Metro services across the city were suspended and shops closed in the city centre on Tuesday, as troops continued to stand guard four days after the government’s decision to put into place a level four state of alert, the highest there is.

Al Jazeera spoke to Brussels resident Mary Katharine, who said the lockdown had largely affected central areas of the city but a sense of normality prevailed elsewhere.

“In the centre, most shops are closed … there are very few people out and about. But in other neighbourhoods, life is as close to normal as possible.

“Of course with the metro and schools closed, it isn’t totally normal, but most people are trying to go about their daily lives,” Katharine told Al Jazeera.

The presence of troops on the streets was “shocking”, she said, but had helped to reassure some residents of the city.

“A sentiment I’ve heard is that it is better to have the police out in such big numbers when we are at threat level four, than to have no one at all.”

Al Jazeera also spoke to Anissa el-Yousfi, a student in Brussels, who said that people had not allowed fears of an attack to affect their day-to-day lives.

“My university cancelled all lectures and events yesterday and today…all my friends and family working in Brussels got the advice to work from home on Monday.

“Of course there are people that are extremely fearful … most people are aware of a possible threat but not so much that it controls their decisions and prevents them from living their lives,” Yousfi said.

‘Stoic resilience’

Al Jazeera’s Paul Brennan, reporting from Brussels, said the mood was not of a “city under siege”. Traffic continued to clog the roads but the streets in Brussels were quieter than usual.

“The over-ground transport system is working, just about. It’s only the underground Metro system that has been shut…people have been advised to try to avoid crowded areas, so many businesses and companies have told their employees to work from home. 


“The schools have been shut, so there will be many people who have to stay at home, to look after their children.”

“The ‘mood’, though, is one of stoic resilience and patience … although people are naturally frustrated by the travel disruption, they are completely supportive of the government’s response,” our correspondent said.

Security forces are trying to hunt down at least one of the men accused of involvement in the Paris attacks, Belgian national Salah Abdesalam, who is believed to be hiding in the Brussels area.

Police are trying to apprehend Abdesalam and other alleged supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

Authorities arrested 16 men in raids in Brussels and the southern town on Charleroi overnight on Sunday.

Shafik Mandhai contributed to this report from Doha

Belgian soldiers and police patrol in central Brussels as police search the area [Benoit Tessier/Reuters]
Belgian soldiers and police patrol in central Brussels as police search the area [Benoit Tessier/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera