By Anshu Chhibber
At times, while being a part of a newsroom chaos when a terror story breaks -- it isn’t easy. Not because it is BIG BREAKING but there is more to every story. When someone really close to you is impacted and living the horror of terror far away.
It was that kind of sinking feeling on Tuesday day when the Brussels story broke at 1 pm, the first thought that came to my mind was my sister’s family living at a locality close to Molenbeek. Many Belgian Muslims live together in Molenbeek, a heavily Muslim dominated suburb that counts 22 mosques within its city limits.
The population is increasingly isolated from the rest of the country and some reports suggest Belgium has the highest number of foreign fighters in Syria of any Western European nation. In Tuesday’s attack more than a dozen were killed when bombs exploded -- two at the main International airport and one at a downtown subway train near European Union Headquarters.
Even as I made calls to find out if all was well with her and her family there were chaotic scenes of blood, dust and flying glass that started coming in from the agencies and international news channels into our news feeds. Finally relieved to hear her voice and my new born nephew in the backdrop only to hear her say all is well but she was concerned as my niece was still at school and it’s all locked down. She immediately started describing how it has been for the last four months since the city came in focus post Paris attacks and the recent arrest of of Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving suspect in the 13 November attacks in Paris. How it is been harrowing to be living so close to a locality which has been the focus of all investigations in Paris attacks, hearing police sirens, gun shots and helicopters hovering above.
Calls were pouring from friends and relatives to check how my sister was and if she is safe. I was still on phone with her when she confirmed the metro blast that we were here still trying to confirm. I could gather the fear in her voice of a possibility of them getting closer and unpredictable danger that hangs on each and every resident in the city every single day since Paris happened. She keeps telling us that she would want to come back and settle in India, even more now. I saw a very worried look on my mum’s face all of last evening even though she wouldn’t say a word.
It was very difficult for me to disconnect myself from what was happening with my sister’s family and be my best at work. We as journalists are generally thick skinned (expected to be) and get used to seeing blood and gory images. Some of these stories that we do, the images that we see even though not of our own always stay in our heads. Some of these incidents make us very angry, we always put up brave faces and try and not allow any story personally affecting us.
I recall visiting my sister in 2005 to a very peaceful Brussels that celebrated its original beer, chocolate, waffles, fries and cheese. It pains to see how the city converted to now popularly known for Europe’s most notorious breeding ground of terrorists. Brussels is a about 3-4 hours away from Europe’s major cities including Paris and Amsterdam. Of course we experienced no city-to-city checks then and not sure if things have changed. But may be they should now. I can only say Europe’s innocence and humanity is at its worst test.
Just two days before the attacks hit Brussels a Belgian minister made a statement a possibility of Abdeslam planning a Brussels attack. The fear for Brussels residents also is how four months on since Paris attacks, the Islamic State is able to dodge any type of crackdown. It is as blatant as them having explosives, Kalashnikovs, and a of course a team ready to attack. They hit the airport and the metro just in a few minutes and send the cops in a tizzy.
My sister is on leave and had she not been home, she would be at the airport on Tuesday where the terror strike hit. My brother-in-law completed his studies in Brussels is too attached to the city to consider moving away. Even though he agrees and keeps getting timely reminders of just how weak Belgian security has proven to be. On Tuesday, he had all his official meetings on phone and chat, he just went out once to pick up my niece from school.
As I write this piece I hope for peace and wish the city, which is just eight miles away from Waterloo where a resurgent Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815, defeats the fear of IS in their minds as the administration figures out their fight back.
The author is Planning Editor, CNN-IBN. She tweets @anshuchhibber.