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While Brussels Mourns, Investigation Of Attacks Progresses


And let's go right this morning to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who is in the city of Brussels, a city that is mourning two days after a terrorist attack killed at least 31 people and wounded hundreds. Eleanor, what does the city feel like this morning?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, David, I was out this morning. And people are going to work. People are out walking. The public transport is still only partially working. It's strange. You see fully armed soldiers in camouflage gear and guns checking people who go into the metro. But people don't seem afraid. They're going back out again.

GREENE: Anything new on the investigation into how this happened and who was responsible?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, David. This morning, the Belgian media is saying that a second suicide bomber from the airport was identified. You remember, there's this picture of three men at the airport.


BEARDSLEY: One of them is - has, you know, blew himself up. One is on the run. And they didn't know who the third was. Well, now they do. His name is Najim Laachraoui. And he was the one who built the Paris bombs. His fingerprints are on the bombs from the Bataclan concert hall in Paris and the Paris stadium. So there's another...

GREENE: Oh, well, so a real - a clear link now between these two attacks in Europe.

BEARDSLEY: Yes, absolutely, clear - another clear link between the Paris and Brussels attacks. And another thing, David - you remember yesterday, the Belgian prosecutor identified the two brothers, the Brussels-native brothers who blew themselves up - one in the metro and one at the airport. Well, police stormed the apartment they were living in. That was on Tuesday. They found out about where they were living in a Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek, not through intelligence or police work, but because the taxi driver who took them to the airport came to police. He said, I picked up three men in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels, took them to the airport, and they didn't want any help with their bags. That's because their bags were bombs. So David, yesterday I went to that Brussels neighborhood. It's called Schaerbeek. And people there were just stunned that these men had been living there among them and making bombs. And I spoke with several people, including Tahir Bas, who's lived there for about 20 years.

TAHIR BAS: Yes, I was shocked by the news. And this is my cousin who say me then that there are problem in Brussels. So we were shocked to wake up like this. I don't know who, where they live and what - I have no idea. I feel strange because I - I never imagined something like this happening here.

BEARDSLEY: Schaerbeek is one of Brussels' 19 districts and a 15-minute drive from the center of the city. It has a large immigrant population and high unemployment. But it's well-kept. And people say it was a calm place to live until all the police raids on Tuesday. Belgium is often considered the weak link in the fight against violent extremists. Part of that is because of divisions here. The country is bitterly divided between French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders. These two sides have different cultural, social and political agendas. And in the last years, there's been serious talk of splitting the country in two. Brussels is technically the capital of Flanders. But the official language depends on the district where you live. There are two intelligence agencies and six police zones in a city that's home to only around a million people.



BEARDSLEY: This dysfunction came to light yesterday when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in June last year, Turkey had extradited Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the brother suicide bombers from Turkey, because they suspected him of terrorist connections. Erdogan says Belgium was notified. I talked to Brussels teacher Didier Dilly this morning while he was on his way to work. He said Belgium's dysfunction is well known.

DIDIER DILLY: (Through interpreter) It's true, in the past, there's been in-fighting between different layers of police. And information didn't get through.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

BEARDSLEY: But the terrorist attacks seem to be bringing Belgians of all stripes together. Hundreds have been gathering at a makeshift memorial in front of Brussels' historic stock exchange. They light candles, lay flowers and write messages of peace in chalk on the plaza. Among them is 20-year-old Honolula Van Laer. She says divisions are melting away.

HONOLULA VAN LAER: People are writing things in Dutch and in - and in French. Some girls were singing the national anthem in French. And I heard the national anthem being sung back in Dutch. So, you know, we're all victims right now, regardless of language or preference or whatever. So if we're all victims, we got to all stand together.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

BEARDSLEY: Well past midnight, young people were still gathering on the steps of the stock exchange, singing together. And Belgium's national motto appears to be making a comeback since the attacks. In Flemish and French, it translates, through unity, strength.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

GREENE: And Eleanor, just listening to that - I mean, a city just trying to stay resilient in the face of all of this. Are you getting a sense of deja vu? I mean, I feel like this is what we felt in Paris when we were together covering that story some months ago.

BEARDSLEY: Oh, absolutely, David. And there are, you know, a lot of connections. The mayor of Paris was here yesterday. Several French officials have come. Paris and Brussels are in solidarity on this. And many of the people here say, we're just - feel like we're back in November. It's happening again - so yes.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reporting for us this morning in Brussels. Eleanor, thanks a lot.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, David. 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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