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Brussels Remains Tense After Terror Attacks Kill More Than 30 People


Across Brussels, residents are trying to come to terms with what happened. Many have gathered in a public square in the center of Brussels, which has become an unofficial memorial to the victims. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joined us from there. And Eleanor, talk about you're seeing today in the square.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, Audie, there's about - I'd say 400 or 500 people out here who are gathered together to comfort each other. A little while ago, they put their arms around each other and they were singing songs such as John Lennon's "Imagine."

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Imagine all the people -

BEARDSLEY: And they're lighting candles, they are drawing on the plaza ground in chalk messages of hope, of peace. But there is a sadness, and people are really shocked by what happened today even though it wasn't unexpected.

CORNISH: You're saying it wasn't unexpected. Obviously, since the Paris attacks last November there's been all kinds of investigations related to those attacks, but do you think people in Brussels were expecting something there?

BEARDSLEY: Audie, I do. Everyone I talk to says we knew that something was coming. We felt that there would be a revenge attack because we're cracking down on terrorism, because they arrested the Paris terror suspect on Friday. No one was surprised. I spoke with Brussels resident Stene Wishu (ph), and this is what she said.

STENE WISHU: It's been something that we've been waiting for. It was - yes, it was something that we knew that at some day, it would happen. But I don't feel a relief. I feel it can happen again, I guess. And one of my best friends is still missing, so we are just on our way now looking for her.

CORNISH: That's resident Stene Wishu. Eleanor, it seems strange for this large group of people to be gathering in this square. I mean, what's going on with security in the city?

BEARDSLEY: Audie, we rode by the train station and I have - there were so many police and soldiers. You know, riot police with their faces covered, you know, guns. Even here at the square, there's, you know, a lot of policemen here. I set down my knapsack for about three seconds and a policeman already said ma'am, is that yours? Then pick it up. You know, so people are sad, but there's so much police presence here people are also still a little nervous.

CORNISH: Eleanor, you're a frequent visitor to Brussels. Obviously, it's the headquarters of the EU, it's the city of diplomats and civil servants. And it's got this reputation for being boring. I mean, is there a sense that Brussels really has been changed by today's events, that it's not going to be the same place it used to be?

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely, Audie. Already since the Paris terrorist attacks in November, Brussels was seen less as a bureaucratic or Eurocratic place than, you know, sort of the heart of these young terrorists, these neighborhoods where they came from to attract - to attack Paris. And now today, it is one of the European capitals that has been just brutally attacked blindly by terrorism. So today, people feel that they're living in a major European capital under threat of terrorism like everywhere else. They say you cannot get away from it.

CORNISH: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley speaking to us from the public square in the center of Brussels. Eleanor, thanks so much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Audie. 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.