March 22, 2018 / 11:06 AM / 8 months ago

Second anniversary of Belgium militant attack brings back painful memories

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The second anniversary of a militant attack in Belgium in which 32 people died brings back painful memories for Walter Benjamin, whose right leg was partially amputated because he was caught in a bomb blast at the airport.

The government said last year it would grant survivors victim status, making them eligible for a pension and reimbursement for medical costs but Benjamin said Belgium has done too little to help survivors return to their daily lives.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to protect its own citizens,” said Benjamin, who wrote a book to help him cope. “People have been abandoned.”

Soldiers have patrolled Brussels since three young Belgian Muslims blew themselves up with suitcase bombs at the Maelbeek metro station and Zaventem airport on March 22, 2016.

But Benjamin and other victims say they still have security concerns as they deal with the memory of the attacks.

Philippe Vansteenkiste’s sister was killed in the attack and he now runs a group for victims. He said there were around 500 direct and indirect victims and more were coming forward.

“People walked away thinking ‘I was lucky, I escaped,’ but then PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) starts,” Vansteenkiste said.

Benjamin was on his way to visit his 16-year-old daughter in Israel when the airport bombs went off. In the aftermath, he said a Muslim man came to his aid. He recalled the moment to argue that not all Muslims should be blamed for the attacks.

Since then, Benjamin finds himself hurrying through airport terminals and security checks. Talking to other survivors and fellow amputees, he says, has helped him heal.

Writing by Samantha Koester and Lucasta Bath; Reporting by Farah Salhi and Natalie Rice; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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