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Residents Of Brussels District Shocked Terrorists Lived In Their Midst


The people of another Brussels district discovered today that terrorists had been living in their midst. The Belgian federal prosecutor revealed that two of the suicide bombers, the brothers who blew themselves up the airport and in the city's metro, had been holed up in their neighbor. The police raid on their apartment found bomb-making equipment, chemicals and suitcases full of nails. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited that neighborhood today.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The neighborhood of Schaerbeek is just one of 19 different Brussels districts. Not too far from the city center, Schaerbeek is multiethnic and has a large youth population. And despite high unemployment, residents say it's a good, calm place to live, until yesterday, that is, when police launched house raids across the neighborhood. This longtime Schaerbeek resident says, today, he fears giving his name because he's worried about his safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through interpreter) We were in lockdown and not allowed to leave our own homes from 11 a.m. to midnight. Everyone is shocked. We have people from everywhere living here, but we all know each other. We had no idea there were freaks like that living among us.

BEARDSLEY: Belgian authorities say a taxi driver came to police after yesterday's attacks to report he had picked three men from an apartment in Schaerbeek and taken them to the airport. One of them turned out to be Ibrahim el Bakrouai, who blew himself up at the airport. In the brothers' apartment, police found large quantities of explosives and suitcases full of nails and bolts to put inside bombs. They also found a computer in a trashcan on the street. Frederic Van Leeuw.


FREDERIC VAN LEEUW: (Through interpreter) The computer contained a testament written by Ibrahim el Bakrouai. He says he's under immense stress and pursued from every side, that he doesn't feel safe anymore and doesn't know what to do, but if he waits any longer he'll end up in a jail cell.

BEARDSLEY: Schaerbeek also has a large Muslim population. Inside a halal pizzeria, Akima al-Haj and her son are ordering a pizza. Al Haj wears a headscarf. She says Muslims really don't understand what's going on.

AKIMA AL-HAJ: (Through interpreter) We are in solidarity with Belgium. We are Belgian. This is our country. It's a free country, and we all live well here. No one knows what's going on in these kids' heads. It's incomprehensible.

BEARDSLEY: Today in Schaerbeek and across Brussels, green military trucks rumble by alongside trolleys, and heavily armed soldiers search people going into the metro. Schaerbeek resident Tahir Bas says he doesn't recognize his city anymore.

TAHIR BAS: I never imagined something like this happening here. This is a little country, and you see things like that in a big country like America in 2001. You say to yourself, it's happening there, but never here.

BEARDSLEY: Bas says it feels very strange to be living in a city that's becoming known for terrorism. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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