“J’ai peur pour mes enfants”

“I am afraid for my children” – The Journal speaks with a man who was inside the King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.

“I am afraid that my children will come across such fanatics”.

Such is the chilling reaction of Thierry Marneffe, a Belgian national who was present during yesterday’s football game and who spoke with The Journal.

Belgium and Sweden’s Euro 2024 qualifier that was taking place in the King Baudouin Stadium had to be abandoned during half-time last night, after two Swedish nationals were killed in Brussels before the game.

“We were in the stadium during the first half of the match. After a spur-of-the-moment decision, we headed to the VIP section of the stadium, where we wanted to have a drink”, recalls an exhausted Thierry, having had to report for a full day’s work after the ordeal he has been through.

His short Facebook post caught our attention: “That one time I decide to go and physically watch a game!” he wrote. His dismay at the fact that the game was ruined has now turned into a much more sober reflection.

“After having a drink during half-time, we realised that the atmosphere was very agitated. Strangely, the match had not restarted. My friends and I were still in the VIP area, and the match should have kicked off again at 9.45pm. We wanted to join the stadium, but security guards were prohibiting us.”

At this stage, Thierry and the rest were oblivious to what had happened. However, all those present at the stadium and all eager football watchers around the continent could sense that something was not quite right.

“Even though I was physically in the stadium, it was via social networks that I got to know that a man had shot three Swedish supporters”, said Thierry. “We had to stay put in that section until midnight. We could not stop scrolling and looking at our phones in horror. It was stressful not only to be stuck there, but to be updated about what was going on from the outside. My wife, who was not with us, was warning me about the measures that were being taken outside.”

Police cordon off an area where a shooting took place in the center of Brussels, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. Belgian police say that two people are dead in central Brussels after several shots were fired. (AP Photo/Sylvain Plazy)

At the time, Belgian and French television and radio stations were airing special transmissions, urging people to stay home. They warned of a killer on the loose, who was spotted on a motorbike carrying a Kalashnikov: the murder weapon that took two people’s lives and injured another.

“It was at around midnight that we were able to evacuate and make our way as instructed to the car parked where our car was. We had to make a detour of around three to four kilometres. That’s quite a long way, especially considering our mental and physical exhaustion. We didn’t reach our home before 3am. The night was not good at all, apart from being short. I am currently going through so many mixed feelings,” Thierry said.

By 9 this morning, the perpetrator of the Brussels terrorist attack had been found and has died. Photos of him were widely circulated on the media, in hopes that the public would help in his identification. In fact, a witness informed the Brussels police that he had seen the suspect in a café in Schaerbeek, one of the municipalities in the Brussels-Capital region. He was carrying a military weapon and a bag of clothes. The man was of Tunisian origin and was an illegal immigrant, as confirmed by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“I wonder what could go through a man’s head to commit these acts,” Thierry reflects.

“This is really brainwashing and religious indoctrination, and I am afraid for my children. What if, one day, they come across such fanatics?”

A question that is hard to stomach and one that we hope he will not have to ask again.

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