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And Brussels became black...

(B2) Winter has fallen on Brussels literally and figuratively. Faced with a threat of an attack of the type of those in Paris, the authorities did not skimp, advising the closure of all major public places.

imminent threat

The alert occurred overnight from Saturday to Sunday. " Imminent threat in the Brussels Region » announced OCAM, the Coordinating Body for Threat Analysis, which decided to raise the threat level to level 4, the highest existing level. This in the 19 municipalities of the Brussels region.

The National Security Council comprising the main ministers concerned, meeting in the early morning, confirms the seriousness of the threat. “The threat is precise. We must take action underlines the Minister of the Interior, Jan Jambon. In the process, the Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region, Rudy Vervoot, recommends “ to cancel all events attracting the public, cultural and sporting events ».

Liberate police forces from ordinary life

Messages are broadcast to the population asking them " avoid gathering places ", to avoid " spread rumors " and " facilitate security checks ". The authorities fear the reproduction of the scenario of Friday the 13th in Paris. They also want to release as many police forces as possible to focus on anti-terrorist action. " We must reduce any possibility of attack. We must have the police capacity to react where necessary confirms Yvan Mayeur, the mayor of Brussels. The one who became one of the number 1 suspects after the attacks, Salah Abdeslam, is still running. He was left by one of his "friends", in Laeken, one of the municipalities of Brussels, last Saturday, " quite pissed off said his lawyer.

Life stops

Little by little, life in the city stopped on Saturday. It started with the subways. Then some trams stopped suddenly, often at the first stop. And the passengers asked to disembark, dumped in the middle of the street and asked to fend for themselves, on foot or… by taxi. Some bus drivers even exercised their right of withdrawal. All events, starting with Johnny Halliday's big concert at Heysel, have been canceled. Theaters and concert halls, both public and private, have canceled their performances. Watermark which never closes (not even on Sunday) announces, with death in the soul, that he has closed his famous bookstore. Swimming pools, museums, cinemas have turned off their lights. A small poster, sometimes written with the means at hand, announces the news. Large shopping centers have closed their doors. In the Rue Neuve, the main pedestrian artery of Brussels, a stone's throw from the Grand Place, the shops which had already opened in the morning closed their doors one by one, quickly. This artery, usually full of people, was deserted in a few hours. The first flakes of melted snow were beginning to fall. It looked like a public holiday.

In the shops, still open, far from the hustle and bustle and the carefree atmosphere of an ordinary weekend, the hour seemed serious. People speak in low voices. " It gives the blues confides a young woman from Brussels who is finishing her shopping. The restaurants are almost deserted. Only a few small neighborhood businesses seemed to take advantage of this sluggishness of the city. " I have never seen so many people. It's like Christmas day » testifies one of the sellers.

Military reinforcements

From 3 a.m. on the night of Friday to Saturday, according to our information, the first reinforcements of soldiers are deployed in the main strategic axes. We find them on rue Louise in particular. They continue to deploy throughout the day on Saturday. The Dingo, these armored vehicles, more accustomed to African or Afghan tracks, are deployed around the most strategic places. We see them at the central station as at the Brussels National Airport, on the Grand Place and in front of the European institutions. Mixed patrols (police, army) are deployed in the shopping streets. At the end of the afternoon, other reinforcements of soldiers arrived, this time, in the residential areas. On board their Mercedes Unimog trucks, they station themselves at street intersections, generally near shops. The smallest neighborhood supermarket, Delhaize, GB – Carrefour, Picard, – now finds itself protected by 2 or 3 heavily armed soldiers. We find them in Woluwe Saint Lambert near the Georges Henri park and at the Thieffry metro station.

All units mobilized

Green, black and brown berets dot the city. Many units were actually called to Brussels. According to our information, the infantrymen of the 12/13 Spa Line, the paracommandos of the 2nd commando battalion of Flawinne, the hunters of the Ardennes hunter battalion of Marche en Famenne (one of the elite units of the Belgian army) and the men of the 5th line of Bourg Leopold (mechanized infantry, Dutch-speaking). All units which have often been deployed abroad (Mali, Lebanon, Afghanistan in particular).

An unparalleled alert

The Belgian capital has never experienced such an alert. Certainly, after Christmas 2007, the threat had also been raised to the same level, level 4, after the arrest of 14 people planning the escape of Nizar Trabelsi imprisoned for attempted attack against a military base. But the effect was not as masterful. And in the memory of Brussels residents we do not remember such a brutal putting to sleep.

On the other hand, trains and airports continued to operate. Zaventem national airport, located in the Flemish region, outside Brussels was full on Saturday. And planes land and take off normally. Logic ?

Obvious contradictions

Comment: The official discourse is, however, totally contradictory. In short, it's about being careful, not panicking and living as usual. How can you not panic when the media (especially TV) have messages playing over and over again, each one more anxiety-provoking than the next and creating a strange atmosphere; that the authorities do not precisely describe the threat and that the measures are put in place in an atmosphere of generalized improvisation? How can we “lead an ordinary life” when everything is closed, stores like cinemas, metros and trams?

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(*) long version of an article published in Sud-Ouest

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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