PARIS: French soldiers patrol the Arch of Triumph on the Champs Elysees avenue of Paris, in France yesterday. — AP
PARIS: French soldiers patrol the Arch of Triumph on the Champs Elysees avenue of Paris, in France yesterday. — AP

BRUSSELS: Brussels struggled to return to normal yesterday after four days on maximum terror alert, with schools and the metro reopening despite two suspects from the Paris attacks still being at large.

Troops and police were still patrolling the streets of the Belgian capital and the alert status remained at the highest possible level of four, leading to questions about what had changed since schools had closed on Monday. “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. The Brussels metro system had been closed since Saturday and gradually returned to service, but with many stops still shut to better deploy security staff. Car traffic was also backed up more than usual in Brussels, already one of Europe’s most congested cities.

About 300 extra police from other cities in Belgium were sent to Brussels to guard schools and 200 extra soldiers helped patrol the metro.

Paratroopers outside 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. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Monday extended the maximum threat level by at least a week, but took the decision to reopen the schools yesterday.

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. Abdeslam is also at large.

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 neighborhood. “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. – AFP