With a combination of defiance, sadness and anger, people in Brussels tried to return to normality a day after the terrorist massacre that many feared was coming.
Machine-gun wielding soldiers guarded subway entrances and searched commutersâ€™ bags and coats before they were allowed to travel as suspects in Tuesdayâ€™s bombings remained at large. Many people followed advice to work from home, while thousands gathered for a vigil in a central Brussels square to honor the victims of the worst terrorist atrocity in Belgiumâ€™s history. Ever since the attacks in Paris in November that were traced to plotters in the Belgian capital, many knew a day like this was all too likely.
â€œYou feel the tension in the air,â€ said Amelie Hubin, a 35-year-old beautician, on her way to work. â€œThe metro is closed and the people who are driving are stressed.â€
With a provisional casualty toll from the coordinated attacks standing at 31 dead and about 300 injured, Belgian authorities continued their hunt for a suspect filmed at the airport with the suicide bombers shortly before the explosions as well as a possible accomplice at the metro attack. Officials faced questions over how the assaults could happen in a city that had put soldiers on the streets and stepped up patrols around transport hubs and sensitive buildings since the Paris attacks.
â€œI felt shocked but I was not surprised; it could have been expected,â€ said Julia von Franz, a consultant. â€œHatred, fear and chaos are exactly what IS wants and we shouldnâ€™t give in to that. Iâ€™m worried about the reactions this will provoke towards refugees and Muslims in and outside of Europe.â€
Unlike in November, when central Brussels went into virtual lockdown as authorities warned of an imminent attack days after terrorists killed 130 people in Paris, this time Belgiumâ€™s capital tried to get on with life as normal: schools opened, buses and trams ran and drinkers sipped espressos at pavement cafes.