A tale of two Brussels

Updated 6:55 AM ET, Sat March 26, 2016

Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.

Brussels, Belgium (CNN)Every time Haroun Zamouri leaves his house, there's a chance he will be searched. It's getting to him, and when he's finished with university, he's gone.

Inga Skaara moved to Brussels recently from the West Bank because she was fed up with the violence. But it feels like the bloodshed followed her here.
Alicia Gabam was expecting this to happen, she just didn't know when. Now she is wondering if it will happen again.
It was Brussels' darkest hour -- three explosions heralding the arrival of pure, unbridled terror in the heart of Europe.
The fear of a homegrown attack had been building for months, accumulating in the collective psyche of the Belgian capital like gray clouds in the sky. And when the storm finally hit on Tuesday, 35 people lost their lives, killed in suicide attacks on an airport and a rush-hour subway train by a group of young men who grew up here.
The deadliest terrorist attack in Belgian history has turned the spotlight on a city at odds with itself. Brussels is at war in peacetime, the beauty of its medieval cobblestone streets marred by the ugly presence of green military trucks on seemingly every corner.
The mood is one of defiance, mixed with the fear that another attack could happen at any minute.
And while everyone in this shell-shocked city is grieving and searching for answers, not everyone is asking the same question.
In the glimmering glass high-rises of the European Quarter, the country's leaders are asking themselves how security forces that blanketed the city for months still let the bombers slip through the cracks.
In the tranquil district of Anderlecht, parents are wondering how to explain the horrific events of the past few months to their young children -- and whether their children are safe at school.
And in the worn-out working class neighborhood of Molenbeek, mothers don't know if their children will come home at all -- and are asking how long they will have to continue to pay for the sins of a few.
If the Berlaymont is one of the most recognizable buildings in the city, the most notorious is a gray and redbrick three-story building in Molenbeek.
It was here that Salah Abdeslam, Europe's most wanted man, was captured by Belgian authorities in mid-March after four months on the run, hiding in an apartment not 500 meters from the house where he grew up.
In the four months since the Paris attacks, this immigrant neighborhood -- just a 20-minute drive west of European Union headquarters -- has become synonymous with jihadism. But the community here tells a different story, one of hard-working people who feel angry and disconnected from a society that doesn't seem to want them.
At the Bienvenue Café, football banners hang from faded pink walls. Old men sip coffee and play cards as the latest news bulletins emanate from a corner TV.
A man named Said is eating lunch at the next table over. Like many others in the neighborhood, he declined to give his last name. "The people here are as nice as anywhere," he says. "It's a community -- we know each other and help each other out."
He says men like Abdeslam are giving Molenbeek a bad name. "These explosions are not in our culture. Terrorism is not in our culture, and they're making our culture look very bad."
The weary expression in Said's voice betrays the general exhaustion of the people in Molenbeek. They are tired of the media, tired of having to apologize and tired of living in fear in their own community.
Molenbeek may be the most heavily patrolled neighborhood in Europe. Soldiers and military vehicles are parked on nearly every corner. Anti-terror raids at all times of the day here are a fact of life now. Children play cricket in the streets, but their parents are sometimes too scared to leave their homes.
At the Thursday market, men argue over the price of apples as women peruse the stalls, dragging their shopping carts behind them. It could be a scene from any city.
Halima Abdelkader is a mother of four who has lived in Molenbeek most of her life. She says people are close here, that everyone knows everyone -- including the families of the neighborhood's most notorious men.
"I've known Salah Abdeslam since he was a little boy. I've known his family for decades," she says. "We started our families at the same time, and they're certainly not radical people."
But Abdelkader has seen a shift recently. Molenbeek is trying to maintain its unity, she says, but the space is growing between different communities in Brussels.
"In the '80s, Molenbeek was like Marrakech. Now it's like Kabul. It's like a war here," she says. "People in other parts of the city don't see the reality of the situation -- but here we're living in it.
"When I cross the road I am afraid. It's my country and I'm scared to go out.
"We're also suffering from these attacks. One woman in our neighborhood went to work and never came back."
Kamal, 35, owns a butcher shop not far from the market. His 7-year-old son Bilal is too young to understand most of what's transpired here in the past four months, and Kamal seems grateful for that. "I don't speak to him about the situation here, and I don't let him watch the news on TV. He's too young. He has other occupations."
As the years go by, Kamal says, he feels more and more like a stranger in his own country.
"The situation here has gotten bad over the past four months. All Belgian people see Molenbeek as a problem. We are Belgian, but many see us as strangers."
It's the same old narrative, says Khadija Zamouri, a member of Parliament who was born in Molenbeek. "It's putting everything together in one pot and saying, 'It's the fault of the Muslims,' and they expect us to apologize for that. And for me, I don't want to apologize for something I'm not part of."
Zamouri says people forget that the Muslim community also has been traumatized by the bombings. And although the country is united in grief, she says, the social integration of Belgium's minority communities has fallen short.
"It touches our lives," she says. "My daughter is in the third grade, and one of her classmate's aunts is missing. She was on the metro on Tuesday, and that hits really, really close to us."
Zamouri's sons also know what it is to feel like strangers in their own hometown.
"My two boys look very Arab, and Haroun, the younger of the two, always gets stopped by the police, even before the (Paris) attacks. Whenever he goes out, it's one or two times a week he is checked," she says.
"He even has a chain on his trousers so he can get his pass out to show to police. And that's getting to him. He's now studying at university and he says, 'When I'm finished with my studies, I'm gone.' And his older brother is already saving money so he can afford to leave the country.
"That's really disturbing," she says. "If even my children -- who have had everything, who are not in need -- are looking for a way to get out of here, what about children who have no chances, no parents behind them to guide them?"

'She can feel the fear around us'

On a normal day, the courtyards surrounding the Berlaymont building would be filled with diplomats and professionals, rushing back and forth between lunch and the glistening towers that represent the center of European democracy.
But Thursday the European Quarter was mostly empty. Schuman, the train station that serves the "heart of Europe," as a nearby sign says, was closed to the public -- although the escalator was still running.
Jonathan Williams works nearby but lives in Anderlecht, just south of Molenbeek. Like thousands of parents across the country, he is struggling to find ways to explain the attacks to his daughter.
"She's still young, but she can feel the fear around us," he says. "Her teachers try to find the right words to explain what's happening without traumatizing her. But still, you can feel fear.
"So we try to put some words on it without being too dramatic -- we don't want to worry her. We try to explain the probability to her. ... There are many metros. For a child you have to generalize so they don't get worried."
What worries Williams is the world's inability to stop these kinds of attacks from happening.
"New York, Paris, Brussels -- it's saddest for the children, the world that they're going to grow up into. And it seems so difficult to find a solution to this problem. These people don't care about living, and you can't control everything.
"My partner and I were saying yesterday that we'd like to move to an island and grow tomatoes," he says, laughing. "But we have to live with it, with love. It can bring out the good side of people when this happens."

'Now it's too late'

Five minutes down the road, the entrance to Maelbeek station, where 20 people died Tuesday, is still closed. A small group of people lay flowers on the ground outside, some too upset to speak.
Joelle Scott was in her office around the corner when the bomb went off. The mother of three looks visibly shaken as she recalls the helplessness she felt.
"We were locked in our building," she says. "All day we heard the sirens of the police, and the ambulances taking people away. We couldn't do anything besides watch out the window and see and hear these people who died on the streets.
"On Sunday my daughter was at the airport, heading to Stockholm for a school trip," she says. "Every day she takes the train through Maelbeek. Even though I knew she was in Stockholm, I kept thinking she was in the metro. If she hadn't been in Stockholm, it could've been her."
Scott, 53, lives out by the airport, but even there she doesn't feel safe anymore. She starts to cry as she continues.
"In the past four months things have changed," she says. "I am afraid. I am afraid to leave my house. I am afraid to walk my dogs. When I go outside I'm looking everywhere -- maybe (terrorists) are over here, or over there.
"I think I want to say to my family and my friends every day that I love them, you know? Because maybe this is the last day you'll be able to say that to them.
"I don't think it's finished. They're everywhere in every land," she says. "The politicians didn't do enough before -- and now it's too late."

'Something heavy in the atmosphere'

It's only another a 20-minute drive from Molenbeek to Ixelles in the east, but the two districts seem worlds apart.
Regal brick townhouses line the ponds that run through the affluent residential part of this area. Parents pick up their kids from music school, and well-heeled couples drink coffee in the nearby café.
The blaring of police sirens, ever-present elsewhere in the capital, doesn't seem to reach here. But the fear does.
For Lisa Croonenberghs, a pensioner who has lived her entire life in Brussels, the biggest change has been the military on the streets. It may be the new norm in the so-called "croissant pauvre" -- the crescent of poor neighborhoods to the west, including Molenbeek -- but it's a jarring sight in a prosperous neighborhood like this.
"You (might) feel more secure in Molenbeek," she says with a laugh. "It's possible that the security there is better than it is here."
Aldona, a 26-year-old model who lives in the area, has grown accustomed to seeing soldiers patrolling the streets. But she says some of the security measures are excessive -- and she's worried about paying her bills after officials closed the school where she freelances for the week.
"It's been a big shock to me -- I'm a very sensitive person," she says. "I'm hurt by people's suffering, but I'm also hurt personally because of my finances. I was really counting on that money. For some people it's nothing when they lose some money, but for some other people it's important.
"It's insane. They let the terrorists win doubly -- some people get killed, and others get poor."
Inga Skaara moved to Ixelles recently from Bethlehem because of violence in the West Bank. But it's as if she cannot escape the bloodshed.
"I came here because I wanted to leave a similar situation," she says. "Not because I was terrified of my daily life, but it wasn't easy. I have a little boy, and with him it was really stressful.
"I came here to get away from that and now I'm thinking, where am I going to go now?"
Her partner, Pablo Avendano, says life has become less spontaneous since the Paris attacks.
"In the past four months, life has shrunk," he says. "Less movies, concerts, going to the park ... we don't do that as much. There's something heavy in the atmosphere that started in November when the (terrorism) alert level went up."

The street less crowded

Moumen Hamdouch works for the European Commission and heard the bomb rip through Maelbeek station. A colleague's husband was on the platform when the train exploded, but survived.
"People don't have confidence that the state can keep them secure," he says. "If I have to choose between walking down two streets, I will always take the one that's less crowded, and I won't be in the commercial and pedestrian areas where there are tons of people."
Hamdouch, a French expat who has lived in Ixelles for a decade, thinks the government needs to do a better job of unifying troubled communities.
"When I turned up in this country I always thought that, compared to France, Belgium had much better integrated its minorities," he says. "I still think it's true, but the security services and the police have made a mess of it and not done their jobs for years.
"Some of these authorities in communities like Molenbeek have turned a blind eye to what is happening. They have no clue who's living in their own city, so if you have no clue about who rents what, the basics aren't there in terms of intelligence gathering."
Hamdouch, like almost everyone else in Brussels, has been rattled by the attacks. But he's determined not to give in to fear.
The evening of the bombings, he saw people filling the city's restaurants and bars, appearing to carry on as normally as possible.
"That's what I've done. It was a friend of mine's birthday and he wanted to cancel his party -- but I told him no, don't cancel."
He relishes the reaction of the people of this city who are "giving the finger to these guys and continuing to live."