A police officer stands guard outside a school in central Brussels yesterday. Brussels’ schools reopened yesterday after staying closed for two days following tight security measures linked to the attacks in Paris.
Regular life began to return to Brussels yesterday as schools reopened and underground train services partially resumed, despite the city remaining under maximum terrorism alert in the wake of the November 13 attacks on Paris.
Many of the perpetrators involved in those killings had ties to Brussels and there are suspicions that one at-large suspect may be hiding out in Belgium.
Authorities also fear a possible attack on their soil.
The Belgian capital has been under security alert level four since Saturday, due to what Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel described as a “serious and imminent threat”.
The country’s co-ordinating unit for threat analysis, an independent organisation known as OCAM, has extended the alert until November 30.
Despite the threat, the government has been determined to bring life back to normal.
Thirty-five of Brussels’ 69 metro stations were reopened at 6am yesterday, the city’s public transport authority said.
Many underground lines were operating with restrictions, however.
Schools and crèches also opened again yesterday, with additional security in place to guard entrances and check the identities of children and their parents.
Two hundred military personnel were dispatched to guard the public transport system and 300 police officers were stationed around schools, RTBF broadcaster reported.
Troops and police were still patrolling the streets of the Belgian capital.
“It’s not very reassuring, is it?” said Sarah, who runs a private nursery in Brussels. “If it wasn’t safe to open on Monday and Tuesday, why is it now?”
For two days parents scrambled to cope with the extraordinary decision to close schools which authorities said was necessary to foil an imminent Paris-style attack by jihadists.
“I had decided to not bring my kids to school this morning, but changed my mind late last night. Life must go on,” said a 47-year-old father who drove his two daughters to school.
“Thank goodness we only have a half day today,” said Marc, 14, as he boarded a school bus, adding that he fully enjoyed the two extra days off from school.
At the French Lycee in a posh Brussels suburb paratroopers cradled automatic rifles at the top of the small street leading to the school.
“I’m not reassured ... this school is a symbol,” said mother Godeleve, as dozens of French parents dropped off their children.
Across town, the huge Kinepolis cinema multiplex reopened with added security by local police. Public museums and concert halls also returned to normal.
Hospitals were also put on a special alert, with Belgian officials worried attackers could specifically target emergency rooms and ambulances.
Belgium on Tuesday issued an international arrest warrant for a “dangerous” man, Mohamed Abrini, who was seen driving a car with key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.
The police on Tuesday also charged a fifth suspect in connection with the Paris attacks.
Belgian daily L’Echo said a series of police raids on Sunday successfully foiled an imminent terrorist plot.
“We’re staying calm but we’re keeping a close eye on everyone around us,” said Nadia, a mother of two children aged nine and 11. “We Muslims are also targeted,” she said.
School officials were under orders to implement strict guidelines, including not letting parents onto the premises.
“I had nightmares all night,” said Fatima, whose child attends a kindergarten north of Brussels.
The increased security presence in front of the school was discreet, with police patrol cars moving between three schools in the neighbourhood.
“They drove by six times this morning,” said the school principal as the morning bell rang, signalling that it was time for parents to leave.