‘Dare to be tender’: One year after attack, Belgian king urges kindness

Belgians gathered on Wednesday in solace and remembrance of the 32 people who lost their lives during a series of suicide bombing attacks on March 22, 2016.

Didier Lebrun/AP
Belgium's King Philippe attends a one-year anniversary service at Maelbeek metro station in Brussels, Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

Brussels on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of suicide bombings that killed 32 people at the airport and subway, with ceremonies timed with the blasts and the dedication of a new memorial.

As Belgium’s King Philippe paid homage to the victims, he urged citizens to draw lessons from the “deadly madness” and to care for each other. 

"It's the responsibility of each and every one of us to make our society more humane and more just,” he said, according to Reuters. “Let's learn to listen to each other again, to respect each other's weaknesses.”

"Above all, let us dare to be tender," he said, at the unveiling of a new monument to all the victims near the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels’ European Quarter.

The Belgian capital has remained on its second-highest alert level since the attacks, which caused around 900 people to suffer from physical or mental trauma.

On March 22, 2016, two young Belgians blew themselves up with suitcase bombs in the departure terminal of Brussels intentional airport in support of the so-called Islamic State group (ISIS). Another suicide attack soon followed at the Maelbeek metro station an hour later. Mohamed Abrini is awaiting trial as an accomplice to the suicide bombings at the airport.

As many survivors and family members of the victims gave poignant reflections, the king, Queen Mathilde, government officials, and airport and rescue staff listened to a roll call of the 16 victims who died at the airport. A minute of silence was also held outside the departure terminal at 7:58 a.m., marking the moment when the first explosion went off.

"Many times I ask myself 'What if?' " German Lars Waetzmann, who lost his wife Jennifer in the attack last year, said in a moving testimony, according to the Associated Press. “What if we would have left 10 minutes later? What if we moved a little slower? What if? In a split second our world changed."

Ceremonies were also held at the Maelbeek subway station, where the king laid a wreath beside a commemorative wall just after 9 a.m., the time when a third bomber detonated his bag on a train.

“People from Brussels reacted well. Citizens showed that we must keep on living, that there is a will to live, and that life must not change, together with our values and way of life. I think that is important,” Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur told the Associated Press.

The commemorations and remarks came as the British Parliament in London came under a terrorist attack on Wednesday afternoon. Witnesses described hearing gunshots, as others reported seeing a vehicle running over several pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. According to London Police, at least four people were killed and at least 20 people were injured. Investigation of the incident is still underway.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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