Brussels is being “defiant in the face of terror”, refusing to let the bombings bring the city to a standstill, Maltese living in Belgium said.
Two separate blasts, at Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station, claimed the lives of at least 31 people, injuring more than 300 and sending shockwaves through the international community on Tuesday morning.
The Belgian federal prosecutor, Frederic Van Leeuw, named brothers Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui as the two suicide bombers responsible for the Brussels attacks.
There were conflicting reports about a third man, bomb-maker Najim Laachraoui, with some sources saying he was on the run, others that he was arrested, and others that he died in the bombings.
As the world mourned the victims, thousands of Brusselaars filled public squares across the Belgian capital in a show of strength.
“The city is defiant, and I suppose that’s the approach Europe has adopted to all of this: a one-finger salute to terrorism,” said Chris Micallef, a Maltese IT analyst who was among those gathered at the Grand Place on the night of the attacks.
The following day, yesterday, life was far from back to normal but it had not stopped altogether, either.
“Yes, there has been increased security and some, including myself, are still digesting what happened. But I still went to work. I still had lunch in the same café and I’m still living in Brussels,” he said.
Antoine Borg Micallef, who works for the European Commission in the Brussels administrative district, said he “refused to stop living life because of terror”. The hours that followed the attack, he said, were “surreal”.
“A mixture of fear, anger and sadness quickly spread through the city. It’s very hard to put into words. You feel exposed, like another attack could happen at any time, in any space. That uncertainty is the terrorists’ objective,” he said.
Yet Mr Borg Micallef said he still stopped at the grocer’s to do some shopping on his way home after the attack and “so did everyone else”.
“I’m not going to put my life on hold. Obviously, something like this impacts you but I’m not going to run back to Malta. Life will go on.”
Another Maltese who settled in Belgium said he had a close shave because his office was right above the Maelbeek station, where the second bomb exploded. Preferring not to be named, the 34-year-old admitted he was surprised by the Belgian reaction.
“There is definitely a feeling of fear, and some colleagues have not reported for work. That is understandable. Many are also in mourning. However, there is definitely a feeling of resistance and resilience, of picking up what’s left and moving on. That’s what’s most striking,” he said.
The attacks have been met with condemnation the world over and were yesterday dismissed by the Muslim community in Malta too. Imam Mohammad Elsadi said the “criminal and cowardly attacks” were unforgivable.
“These terrorists, by their barbaric acts, are tarnishing the true peaceful image of Islam and exposing Muslims in Europe to hatred, injustice and suffering,” he said. The aim of such attacks, he added, was to destroy sincere efforts for the integration of Muslims in Europe and the peaceful coexistence of different cultures.
“We consider any threat to the security of Europe as a threat to Muslims who live in Europe too. Any terrorist act against Europe is assassinating our dreams of security and stability.”
The Imam expressed sympathy for the family of Lorenzo Vella, a Maltese who was injured during the airport explosion. “May Allah help us all to eliminate terrorism and live in peace all over the world,” he said.