Syrian eyewitness speaks of Brussels carnage

Syrian eyewitness speaks of Brussels carnage
Blog: The Syrian-Canadian activist was due to fly out of the Belgian capital when the bombs detonated - a reminder to him of the reach and destruction of Syria's war.
3 min read
22 Mar, 2016
Kuwatli was about to fly out of Brussels airport when the bombers attacked [Bassam al-Kuwatli/Facebook]

Bassam al-Kuwatli's plane was sitting on the asphalt of Brussels airport when the bombers struck

He had just concluded a meeting with European Union MPs in the Belgium capital to discuss the situation in Syria and was minutes away from flying back to Turkey.

But his flight was grounded after two explosions ripped through the orderly queues of passengers at the Brussels airport's departures lounge.

Kuwatli had been in the same place just ten minutes earlier, and was lucky to escape the blast.

"It feel likes such a strange place to be in," he said from Brussels. "But then you think of all those Syrians who see much worse every day."

Going home

At least 14 were killed in the attack, as well as 20 more dead in an attack elsewhere in the city, at a metro station close to the EU headquarters.

Ironically, the Syrian-Canadian was heading back to a city with its own experiences of war and bombing.

Kuwatli is manager at RM Team - a research group which conducts opinion polls in Syrian opposition areas.

Passengers escorted off the plane [Bassam al-Kuwatli]

The office is based in Turkey's Gaziantep, a city filled with refugees - many whose homes have been reduced to rubble by regime and Russian bombs, often just kilometres away from the border.

Now, just metres away from Kuwatli's seat on the flight, people were also dying or lying injured from a bomb attack now being attributed to the Islamic State group.

He only realised what had happened after speaking with friends by phone during his hour's wait on the airstrip.

"I did not even hear the explosion... we could see them people being evacuated from the building," he said.

Back in Brussels

After an hour sitting on the plane, Kuwatli and the other passengers were allowed to leave the airport, while some of the injured were being treated outside.

"There were a lot of ambulances and police. Some people had blood on them, but I didn't see any of the serious cases. I had to walk over 15 minutes to get out of the airport to find a car to get back to where I was staying."

Although shocked by the bloodshed, as a Syrian, Kuwatli is familiar with the carnage caused by bombs. 

Brussels on Tuesday as police attempt to search young men [Bassam al-Kuwatli/Facebook]

With air links closed to the Belgian capital, Kuwatli will be stuck in the city for at least three days - but was lucky enough to be able to extend his stay at an apartment.

On his way back to his residence he found a city very much in lockdown. Armed police and soldiers swarmed the streets.

He saw a group of police officers swoop in and search a group of North African-looking men on the street. A scuffle ensued but there were no other signs of trouble, while on the streets, Brussels residents handed out water to passersby. 

After briefly visiting the horrors of war, Brussels was beginning to return to being a regular, European city, although evidently scarred by its experience.