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Best Place for a Terrorist to Hide

David Damen, Brussels

Following the horrific airport bombings in Brussels, the media spotlight is once again on Belgium’s Arab ghettos, where terrorist ideology is said to proliferate. Yet in candid conversations with the locals of Brussels’ Molenbeek district — known as the terror hotbed of Europe — they tell us they’ve been condemned unfairly. Are they unwitting hosts to deadly terror cells, or are they just avoiding an uncomfortable truth?

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

“Why, for goodness sakes, do we have to meet with these people?” My neighbor Hassan is on a rant, wishing he were anywhere but alongside me in my car as we make the half-hour drive from our home in Antwerp to Brussels. Agitated and defensive, he instinctively pulls out a cigarette from the box in the pocket of his coat, even though he’d promised he wouldn’t smoke in the car. Since the Brussels terror attacks two weeks ago, Hassan has been very quiet, morose. Perhaps it’s his Moroccan background that’s plaguing him. The Abdeslam family, who blew themselves up in Paris, and their brother Salah who was recently captured, are Moroccans. The El Bakraoui brothers who detonated the explosions in Brussels are Moroccans. Hassan himself was born in Belgium. But he’s feeling the silent accusations in the media and the street; too many Moroccans have morphed into brutal terrorists these days. I’ve known Hassan the contractor for many years. We’ve worked on projects together and have had dozens of conversations about ISIS and Islam and the destruction they’re bringing upon the world. We don’t always agree, but this time, both of us stood on the same side of a bright red line. “They’re destroying our lives. They’re humiliating us,” he lamented to me on the phone last Sunday. “When the explosions happened, my brother and I were at work and we heard it on the radio. I looked into his eyes and together we looked down. We put our heads into our hands and sighed, ‘Oh, no, it’s happening to us again.’ ” “Hassan, what are you doing now?” I asked him. “Watering the flowers in the garden.” “Maybe we go to Brussels and see what’s happening with your fellow Muslims there,” I suggested. “Okay, why not?” he replied. Before he could change his mind and lose his resolve, Hassan, the photographer, and I were in my car driving down the E19 to the capital.

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