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One Year After Brussels Attacks, Surviving Relatives Seek Messages of Hope, Love

  • Marthe van der Wolf

One year ago Wednesday, terrorists killed 32 people and wounded more than 300 in Belgium’s capital city. Those who lost a loved one during the attacks share how they are trying to turn their mourning into something positive.

Photos by Johan van der Steen are on display in Brussels. He was among those killed in terrorist attacks that rocked the city one year ago.

His life partner, Kristin Verellen, organized the photo exhibit as a tribute to him.

"Well, it has been a tough year," Verellen said. "The 22nd of March is only one day of the year but it’s important that we as human beings are also capable to stand still and to reflect on the unhappy things in life."

Verellen established a citizen’s movement called "Circles -- we have the choice" -- connecting anyone affected by violence by sharing stories.

"We have the choice started immediately afterwards, to create meaningful togetherness as a positive response to blind violence and to the fragmentation and polarization that we see in our society," she said.

Some of the terrorists lived in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels. Many of the 100,000 Muslims living there feel stigmatized. Some were also victimized.

Mohamed El Bachiri is a metro driver from Molenbeek. His wife, Loubna, was killed when terrorists bombed the metro she was in, leaving him behind with their three young children.

El Bachiri put his sorrow into a call for love, by publishing a poetry book called Jihad of Love.

"It’s a message of love, of humanity, a call for reflection and it's related because the unimaginable, the unspeakable happened to me, and I think this is somehow a response," he said. "We need to express ourselves, we need love and at the same time, we need to talk about what we are first and foremost – human beings. We need to return to our humanity."

It’s here at the Maalbeek metro station where both Verellen and El Bachiri lost their loved ones.

Instead of a moment of silence to remember the victims, metro staff will observe a minute of noise, demonstrating their solidarity against hate and terror.

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