‘This terror is all over Europe’: More questions than sales in deserted Brussels marketplace

— Abdel Kaldon was frustrated but not surprised by the aftershocks from Tuesday’s co-ordinated suicide bombings in the Belgian capital.

Hours after the usually packed Bruxelles-Midi market opened on Easter Sunday it was still mostly deserted. Despite a heavily armed and constantly moving military presence, the stalls and pathways that run next to several football fields on both sides of a railway bridge were largely deserted.

“We are not afraid. It is our customers who are afraid,” said Abdel Kaldon, who has worked in the market for 20 years. “We usually do about 4,500 euros business a day and Easter should be one of the best days. But today we will probably only make about 1,000 euros. The fruit is spoiling. We will have to throw a lot of it away.”

Like most of the vendors, and like most of the alleged attackers linked to the Brussels bombings and attacks last November in Paris, Kaldon traces his origins to Morocco. He was emphatic that he and those he works with have totally different ideas than the terrorists who killed 161 people in Brussels and Paris.

“Those who did this have nothing in their heads. They do not believe in God,” he said. “I hope that they are done with this because it destroys commerce.”

Those who did this have nothing in their heads. They do not believe in God

The security threat is considered so grave that the authorities cancelled a March Against Fear that had been planned for the city centre on Sunday. Rock concerts and sports matches have been postponed and the airport, which suffered severe damage to its check-in area, will remain closed until at least Tuesday.

The market — which is inside the so-called “croissant pauvre,” or poor crescent near the city centre where many Arabs live — is a microcosm of . It is one of the places where the country’s many communities regularly gather to buy and sell without some of the cultural and linguistic frictions that can occur elsewhere in this fragile country sandwiched between Holland, Luxemburg, Germany and France.

Although Kaldon and everyone in the market, no matter what their religious beliefs, hoped the terrorist cell that has caused such carnage in two European capitals had been broken and that calm would return, no one thought that this would actually happen.

“This terror is all over Europe now and it is not finished in Belgium because there really is no solution to this problem,” said Anna Maas, whose family has been selling flowers at Bruxelles-Midi for four generations.

Matthew FisherMatthew FisherYassine Elyazildi and Abdel Kaldon complained that they would have to throw out most of their fruits and vegetables because most of their customers were too afraid to go shopping Sunday in the Bruxelles-Midi market because of Tuesday's multiple suicide bombings in the capital.

“But I hope we are safe here in the market. This place is full of Muslim sellers. I don’t think they want to kill their own people.”

Somewhat guarded unhappiness about how Belgium had evolved since it began seeking Moroccans to fill serious manpower shortages 50 years ago could be heard everywhere Sunday among Belgians of French or Flemish descent.

Maas’s 16-year-old son said he had very few Muslim acquaintances and no Muslim friends at school because he had the feeling they wanted “to make all Belgians into Muslims.”

As she bought a cluster of grapes from Kaldon’s stall, white-haired Arlette Antoine said “if you succeed in taking down one cell there will be another. If you take down three of them, 10 more will rise.

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“My question is: In whose name do they do this? I am an atheist but I don’t know one religion that advocates this kind of general violence.”

A retired school principal, Antoine said that at one of the schools where she had worked “I did not have one single Belgian student. I don’t even hear Flemish or French spoken on the buses in Brussels any more.”

Repeating something heard several times around Bruxelles-Midi, Anna Maas said area municipalities had acknowledged that one-quarter of the population was Arab by altering school calendars so all students would be on holiday during Ramadan. “We have to adapt to their culture because they are so strong in Brussels,” she said with obvious unease.

Across from Maas’s dazzling roses, tulips, carnations and pansies, a Flemish man who would only give his name as Jan said the Belgian government “must be more severe with those who commit some crimes or talk about doing it. Until now we have been too tolerant. We should help people but we should not always behave like we are Santa Claus.”

Matthew Fisher Matthew Fisher Peter Mass (right) and his 16 year old son, Laurens, lamented few customers for their Easter flowers in the usually packed Bruxelles-Midi Market.

Like many Bruxellois, the man, who was in his forties, laid much of the blame for the recent attacks on the European Union’s security agencies’ failure to tell each other what they knew about several of the individuals who allegedly took part in or helped organize the attacks. “I grew up with the EU and it is embarrassing to me that after 50 years of Europe we still do not co-operate with each other.”

As Jan wolfed down a huge white Belgian sausage, the woman who had sold it to him said she wanted the Schengen Agreement, which allows people to travel without immigration checks within the EU, to be abandoned. It was through neighbouring countries that some of those linked to the bombings traveled freely to and from the Middle East.

The many Moroccans in the market repeatedly emphasized that Islam was a religion of peace. It was also noted that the attacks, which killed a Moroccan family and cost a Moroccan man one of his limbs, had put great stress on their normally tranquil relations with Belgium’s other communities.

There is real fear in my house today

“This complicates our lives. Of course some people change their opinions about us. We know this. It is really sad,” said Yassine Elyazildi, who explained that his wife had just missed a tram that was going to the Metro station that was blown up.

“This market is empty right now. People are not buying our fruit. They are not buying any meat or fish or clothes from anyone else, either. It really has been this way since the Paris attacks last fall.”

Elyazildi’s colleague, Marroufi Elyamani, said, “There is real fear in my house today. My wife cries and cries. She won’t go outside.”

Elaborating on the same grim theme, Elyazildi added: “I understand why people are afraid to go down into the Metro now. This place could be a target, too. It is a big market. But life continues.”

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