Attacks in Brussels: "It's a real mess here..."

Article published on March 22, 2016
Article published on March 22, 2016

This morning, bombing attacks targeted the Brussels airport and a metro station near the city's European quarter, leaving – by current counts – more than 30 dead and nearly 200 wounded. The capital of Europe is in shock. Reaction from a journalist at the scene.

cafébabel: Where are you at this moment?

Quentin: I can see Maelbeek station (the metro stop targeted in the attacks. ed.) from where I'm standing. My office is about 200 metres from here. The rue de la Loi – the large boulevard where the European Institutions are located – is in process of being cordoned off. They are shutting everything down.

cafébabel: What's happening around you?

Quentin: There are police everywhere; I can hear continuous sirens... Journalists are piling into a nearby hotel to work; some of them are doing live broadcasts from the street. The police and fire services are beginning their rounds. There are two or three ambulances near to the station, but I can't see if they are still evacuating the wounded from here.

cafébabel: How are you feeling right now?

Quentin: Honestly, I don't know. [Silence]. I can't work it out. There's a moment when you don't understand what... Shit. Those people taking the metro, catching a plane... We knew that it could happen. In the end, we know their goal is to freak us out. But then, are you ready to do journalism in such an event? You're constantly rushed off your feet, but this time, I was really nearby... I'll wait and see but I reckon it's going to be a crazy week at work.

cafébabel: You're a journalist, are you working right now?

Quentin: Listen, you don't really have a choice. This is what we call being overwhelmed by breaking news. We're in work mode, we're live, we're on Twitter... you have to keep working. Rumours are already circulating, saying there have been shootings all over Brussels. You've got to check your facts, reassure people. It's our job to confirm what we can, to warn our readers about what's really going on. Because it's a real mess here...

cafébabel: Frankly, we've heard everything and anything about what's going on this morning. Are you able to to take a step back and think?

Quentin: More or less... For example, I was in the central station at about 9:40, when they announced that there had been a third explosion. It fact, it was nothing. Then, the authorities sent a message that said there might be another bomb to come. Hypothetical information only adds to the confusion. All it takes to turn rumours into "facts" is someone who doesn't really speak French misunderstanding.

cafébabel: There's talk of a siege, even "a state of war". Is that what you think?

Quentin: I don't know about "a state of war"... but we're clearly under siege – we've got a level 4 alert. It's equivalent to France's state of emergency. They've stopped the buses, the trams, the metro... restaurants are closed. Brussels is becoming a dead city. Concerning the expression "a state of war", I'm more sceptical. In my view, it leads to exactly the kind of mind set that these guys want to create. The authorities (1600 personnel deployed according to recent news. ed.) are taking precautions and doing the maximum they can to calm the situation. Now, it's also up to us to do our jobs and inform the public of the facts.

cafébabel: You have already witnessed the Brussels Lockdown; the level 4 alert was also in place in the days after the Paris attacks. Are things different this time?

Quentin: It's not the same at all. The Lockdown (the expression used in the days after the Paris attacks to describe the state of siege following a terror threat in Brussels. ed.) was decided on a weekend, at 5am. So when you woke up you no longer had the metro, everything was shut. Today is Tuesday, everyone is at work, it's just not the same. People don't expect it. You see people running everywhere, all the offices have tried to protect their employees. Man, the panic...

cafébabel: People have been quick to make declarations, notably the Swedish Prime Minister, who spoke of an "attack against democratic Europe". Do you think that the European Institutions were particularly targeted?

Quentin: We know that they were. Strategically speaking, in the European quarter you have loads of diplomats, politicians... so it's automatically an area that you have to pay attention to. But all that about "the symbol of Europe"... I don't know. It's too soon to say that was the terrorists' objective. What we do know is that it's been confirmed that the attack in the Maelbeek metro was a suicide bomber. That makes you think it was prepared. Is it an attack that particularly targeted Europe in revenge for certain operations? I don't know. We'll see after the inquiry.

Maelbeek station, the location of the second terrorist bombing this morning in Brussels.

cafébabel: The European quarter is also one of the places with the most people passing through...

Quentin: Yeah, obviously. A huge number of people work in the European quarter. Over 30,000 people work in the European Institutions. Then you have NGOs, law firms etc. The metro line that got hit, it's one of the most frequent. If they attack Maelbeek, it's above all because they know that lots of people pass through there.

cafébabel: What do you see happening next?

Quentin: Straight away? I think we're going to have a long day. The first task will be to avoid any bullshit.

cafébabel: People talk about feeling powerless in the face of these attacks. Is that how you feel?

Quentin: Yeah. It's like Paris. They attack cities where nobody is armed; multicultural cities, areas that are not prepared for it. Maelbeek station doesn't have a lot of security. The Paris equivalent would be somewhere like Château d'Eau (on line 4, in the 10th arrondissement. ed.). It's a small station; it might be next to a bridge but still... if you want to go to work, you have to pass through it.