Belgium on Monday pays tribute to victims of terrorist attacks that killed 32 people and injured more than 340 five years ago.
The suicide bombings on March 22, 2016 targeted Zaventem airport and Maalbeek metro station and were claimed by the Islamic State.
Sixteen people were killed at the airport and another 16 died shortly afterwards in a new explosion at the Maelbeek metro station in the European quarter of central Brussels.
Then the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel – now the President of the European Council – said that the events of March 22 were a “terrible shock” that had a lasting effect, in an AFP interview on Friday.
“The country is not the same after these attacks. A threat that we had until then thought as theoretical is now very real,” said Michel, a liberal leader who was Belgium’s prime minister between 2014 and 2019.
Salah Abdeslam, a 31-year-old alleged French jihadist accused of the 2015 Paris attacks, was among ten accused who will be tried in 2022, following a separate French trial.
‘I did not want my life to end’
For Belgian Sebastien Bellin, who was seriously injured in the attacks, “reconstruction” is still a trial.
“I will be disabled for life, it is not easy but I have accepted it. It is a gift to get a second chance,” said the 42-year-old, a former professional basketball player, at his home in Tervuren near Brussels.
Bellin, who has turned to technical design after his sports career, was to catch a flight to New York that morning for a meeting with the American investors who had just bought his company. They were eager to meet him, he told AFP, and he took his journey forward by 24 hours from Wednesday to the fateful Tuesday.
Bellin was on the ground, his legs bleeding in the middle of debris and dust. The image of a dead woman next to him remains in his mind.
“I can still see the rings on her fingers and her face, the blanket she was covered in,” he said.
“Of course, my two daughters came to mind – I did not want my life to end,” he said, adding: “I remained calm instead of panicking and losing the energy I needed to survive.”
He waited an hour and a half before being removed in an ambulance and does not like to judge his suffering as those minutes passed.
While waiting, Bellin managed to pull his 2.05 meter long frame onto a cart and carried his unguarded leg. He compressed the bleeding as much as possible with temporary competitions.
Today, his right femur and left tibia are replaced by metal pins. He can no longer feel his left leg and to move he has to compensate with his right leg.
Five years later, Bellin’s life is still marked by physiotherapy and legal limbo over the medical costs incurred for part of the treatment.
“The state could have made a much greater effort, but after five years we still have no concrete solution,” he said.
Bellin is training intensively in the forest in Tervuren to prepare for this year’s edition of the “IronMan” triathlon in Hawaii, one of the most famous in the world, scheduled for October.
“Being disabled is not an end in itself – a handicap can be improved, just like in golf!” he joked.
“The handicap will not hit me. I will win.”
( Jowharwith AFP)