Blog AnalysisPolice Terrorism

Brussels attacks: should the metro be stopped? A theoretical question

The map of the closure of metro stations, several days after the attacks
The map of the closure of metro stations, several days after the attacks

(BRUSSELS2) The question haunts Belgian political and transport leaders and… the Belgian media. After the first attack in Zaventem on March 22, should the metro be stopped? Could some lives have been saved? Asked after the fact when you know what happened next, it's quite easy...

Why close the metro?

The right question is to know what we could and should do before (not after!). Why stop only the metro, and not the buses (which could just as easily have been a target as in London in July 2005) or the trains (as in Madrid in March 2004 or the Thalys in August 2015), or even close all shopping centers (potential targets for attacks) or cafes (see Paris Bataclan attacks), etc. Redoing the story afterwards is always easy.

Could the attack and other victims have been avoided: not sure

Assuming that a decision could have been taken, within a short period of time (before the attack), the time to take the decision, to give the order, for it to be passed on, executed, to carry out evacuations, to proceed with the deployment of all police officers in all areas... even with perfect efficiency, it would take several tens of minutes. This left plenty of time for the perpetrators of the attack, determined to die, to find another way to do damage. Certainly the Maelbeek metro would not have been targeted. But it would have been elsewhere: a bomb in the evacuation line, in a crowd formed in front of the closed stations, etc. Suffice to say that if the victims would not have been the same, the very question of avoiding the attack is completely random. The toll would perhaps have been lower but perhaps also… higher. Imagine an explosion in a long, crowded staircase, in the stations preceding Maelbeek, at Schuman or Mérode…

The reality: a moment of crisis = a moment of panic

The reality seems to be above all that, in the crisis management room, after the Zaventem attack, aided by the saturation of the telephone lines, the atmosphere was electric. According to a testimony received by B2, for many minutes, “ it was a mess, orders were flying in all directions ". The officers present were Super-Parents ". The telephone lines were saturated. A wind of panic reigned (which is not illogical given the intensity of the action). Some orders may have been lost en route. It is also not certain that the government order was given in such a clear and imperative manner, as Interior Minister Jan Jambon claims.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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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