By Liselotte van Balen —
On Tuesday morning, around 8 am local time, twin blasts struck the main terminal of Brussels International Airport, while an explosion hit the Maalbeek metro station in the center of the Belgian capital an hour later, killing 31 and leaving 300 injured in total. The terrorist attacks raised great concern amongst several members of the AUC community with close ties to Belgium.
A number of AUC students feared for the lives of their family and friends following the explosions on Tuesday morning. First-year humanities major Marie Verheul was not able to reach her parents in Brussels for two hours as the phone lines were down. “Most days my dad takes the metro from the same station that got hit to go to meetings. So when I saw the name of the station where the attack took place, I immediately panicked and was feeling very emotional,” said Verheul. She confirmed that her father is safe.
Despite the great shock the events caused, the attacks did not come as unexpected, since Brussels is home to most European Union institutions, as well as the headquarters of NATO. According to Ronja Ringman, who graduated from AUC in 2014, the attacks were bound to happen. “I went to an international school [in Brussels] in which we had bomb threats every now and then. It was only a matter of time,” she said.
Former AUC student Okke Lucassen stated that he didn’t expect a coordinated attack in multiple locations. Lucassen graduated from AUC in 2015, and is currently doing his Masters in Brussels. He was supposed to fly to Tel Aviv at 14:00 that same day, and had planned to go to the airport early in the morning. “I just thought how lucky I was that my flight wasn’t early in the morning. I reached out to my other friends who would join me on the flight. No one had gone to the airport yet,” said Lucassen, who stated that he currently feels “fine”.
First-year social sciences major Rabiya Chaudhry’s sister lives in Brussels. Even though her sibling is safe, Rabiya expressed that she feels very affected. “I am devastated and I am scared. ISIS has made statements about the Netherlands being hit next, which makes me constantly scared and on edge,” said Chaudhry.
Lucas Zarzoso, a first-year social sciences major from Brussels, stated that he will not be led by fear. “I guess I should be worried and I think I am, but I do not want to live in fear because that would mean the terrorists win,” said Zarzoso. His relatives and friends are all safe.
Belgium is currently observing three days of mourning, and a minute of silence was held yesterday at noon. First-year social sciences major Julia Hufkens, who is from Brussels, was in the city during the moment of silence. “Everyone was shocked, there hasn’t been a bomb [there] since World War II. The streets were completely empty and everything froze,” she explained. Hufkens had gone to Brussels on Tuesday, just after the attacks, in order to spend the Easter break with her family. She said that she had no difficulty entering the city, and was not checked by police.
AUC’s new Dean Prof. Murray Pratt sent an email on Tuesday afternoon regarding available support. “We are saddened again to hear of terror attacks, this time close to home, in Brussels today, and Turkey earlier this week, as we are by atrocities in other parts of the world,” Pratt wrote. He encouraged any affected students to get in touch with the Student Life Officer, Vinika Porwal, or the Senior Tutor, Dr. Mariette Willemsen. Porwal will be hosting open office hours later today (March 24th), between 14:00 – 17:00 in room 2.24, for any student who wishes to speak to her about what happened.
The AUC administration was not able to provide exact data on how many Belgian students are enrolled during this academic year. According to Marcus Smit, the college’s internationalization officer, last year there were 10 students who were born in Belgium, and 5 who held a Belgian nationality. He expected similar numbers for this academic year.