Belgium observed a moment of silence today to mark the first anniversary of the Islamic State bombings in Brussels, beginning a day of emotional ceremonies designed to show that the heart of Europe stands defiant. A sombre King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, along with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and other ministers, lined up quietly at 7:58 am outside the renovated Zaventem Airport to mark the exact time when two suicide bombers killed 16 people and wounded many more at the site. During the airport ceremony, a woman clutched white roses as Eddy Van Calster, the brother of airport check-in agent Fabienne Van Steenkiste, who was killed in the attack, played a rock ballad in tribute.
As hundreds of people including victims’ family members and rescue workers looked on, an airport official read out all of the names of all of the victims. “March 22 2016, will forever be in our hearts…we stand here united,” the official said. The royals will lead a second moment of silence at 9:11 am at Maalbeek subway station to mark the moment a third suicide bomber killed another 16 people on a crowded train.
More than 320 people were wounded in both attacks. In act of defiance and solidarity, the event at Maalbeek is due to be followed by applause and a “minute of noise” as trains, trams and buses come to a halt in memory of the victims of the country’s worst ever terror attacks. The king and queen will inaugurate a new steel memorial at the heart of the European Union institutions based in Brussels.
A year on, Belgium remains on high alert with troops patrolling the streets and warnings of fresh risks from Islamic State jihadists returning home from Iraq and Syria. Investigators say the blasts were carried out by a network that was also behind the November 2015 Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed, and acted on orders from the IS high command. Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui struck at the airport while Bakraoui’s brother exploded his bomb at the metro station.
While tightly guarded, Wednesday’s ceremonies focus on bringing Belgian society together, from royalty to schoolchildren, and from people of all faiths. “Today we remember the victims of the attacks. We all remain united,” Michel tweeted. During the “minute of noise”, commuters will be invited to take part “to show that they do not forget but they will stay standing against hate and terror”, said the Brussels public transport company Stib.