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Belgium Neighborhood Had Earlier Links To Terrorism


Residents of a suburb of Brussels, Belgium face an uneasy reality. Some of them know a suspect in the Paris bombings.

SUNNY SHEIKH: He's nice haircut, really stylish guy. And you know, it's - normal guy. I almost never saw him in the mosque. It's very shocking.

INSKEEP: A description of suspect Salah Abdeslam. It comes from Sunny Sheikh, his fellow resident of Molenbeek, Belgium. Yesterday, police sealed off a part of that town as they tried to find the suspect.

SHEIKH: I have spent all of my, like, childhood here in this area. Most of the people in this neighborhood are Muslims. But there has never been anything radicalization or anything, you know, against or - nothing like this. And I am really, really shocked 'cause, well, it's just like a normal neighborhood everywhere, you know?

INSKEEP: Well, maybe not never. The Paris manhunt is only the latest time Molenbeek has been tied to terrorism. Residents were linked to the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and killings last year at a Jewish museum. It's a suburb in the European sense, an immigrant neighborhood with high-rise buildings and a densely packed population. Evgenia Gvozdeva is an intelligence expert in Brussels.

EVGENIA GVOZDEVA: It's a pretty poor neighborhood marked by nearly 40 percent of unemployment. And since 1990s, it was also the neighborhood which had important radical Islamist personalities who were carrying out their propaganda.

INSKEEP: A Molenbeek city councilman reminds us that not all or even most residents are extremists. But this town is the focus of law enforcement once again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.