The Long-Term Effects a Terror Attack Has on a City

We spoke to Bataclan survivors and people in Brussels and Berlin about the way a city is forced to deal with the ramifications of an attack.
May 24, 2017, 2:39pm
A person at the Manchester vigil on Tuesday evening. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire/PA Images

Manchester is still reeling from the attack on Monday night, in which 22 people were killed and another 64 injured. On Tuesday, the city congregated in Albert Square for a vigil for the victims and to stand in solidarity with one another. It was an important point in the grieving process, but as we've learned from other incidents across Europe, only the first step toward processing the horrific events of this week. When the safety and security of your everyday environment are challenged, how do you react? And how does it impact your life in the long-run?


We spoke to people in Paris, Brussels, and Berlin—all cities to have been hit by terror attacks in the past two years—to see how residents have been affected further down the line.


On November 13, 2015, Paris was hit by a series of coordinated attacks: A suicide bombing outside a soccer match, several mass shootings, and another suicide bombing near cafes and restaurants, and a mass shooting at the Bataclan Theater during an Eagles of Death Metal concert. One hundred people were killed and another 368 injured. Emmanuel Denise spoke to two survivors about the long-lasting effects of the attack.

Elias, 28

VICE: Where were you during the attacks?
Elias: I was in the second row in front of the stage of the Bataclan, so relatively close to an emergency exit. It was a small reward for standing in line for two hours before the concert. In hindsight, I think those two hours saved our lives, even if it didn't save us from the horror.

How did you process the event initially?
For the first few days, I was annoyed, above all, by the torrent of love and positive thoughts—by the compassion my family and friends showed me—because I was alive and unhurt, while 90 people were dead. Since November 13, I haven't had nightmares, I haven't cried, I haven't had an anxiety attack, despite the horror I saw in those 15 minutes. I returned to my normal life. My psychiatrist tells me it's called "dissociated post-traumatic stress," but that a psychological backlash is possible. Denial protects me for now.


Do you feel safe now, or do you still worry?
Just after the events of that day, I imposed a kind of alertness on myself. I looked out for the emergency exits at concerts; I watched people's behavior and spotted abandoned luggage on public transport. Today, the emergency state [in France], it almost trivializes the attack. It can give a feeling of security, but no one is really safe.

Has your perception of Paris changed?
It didn't change my perception of Paris, but it did change my perception of the world. Attacks, hundreds of people dying—it was just the in the news for me. Today, it's a tangible reality, in Paris and everywhere.

Arthur, 28

VICE: Where were you during the attacks?
Arthur: I was at the Eagles of Death Metal concert, in the pit, just in front of the stage, with one of my best friends. We'd seen them before, and it was probably one of the best concerts of our lives, so we wanted to get there early to be in the front row. That saved us; we were close to an emergency exit. When the attack started, I thought someone was throwing firecrackers. It took me a few seconds to understand it was an attack. I threw myself on the ground. Then came the moment where the survival instinct came in: If you stay, you die; if you run, you have at least a chance of staying alive. I waited for them to reload, and then I climbed up the barrier in front of the stage to go toward the exit. There were several bodies. I fell down, and then I found myself under other people who were also trying to run away. I was suffocating and thought I was going to die. I finally managed to crawl toward the exit. There, my friend was waiting. He managed to run away a few minutes before me, but decided to stay, despite the danger. For me. He grabbed me and took me away. He certainly saved my life.

Do you feel safe in Paris today?
In the weeks and months after the attack, many parts of everyday life became very difficult. Taking public transport, in particular. This sense of insecurity is aggravated when there's a new attack. The Manchester attack, in particular, in a concert hall, uncovered underlying feelings that aren't buried very deeply. For a long time, I thought it could happen to me again. Even today, if a firecracker goes off in the street or someone shouts, it can sometimes scare me to death.


How did you handle it in the days and weeks after?
Surviving such an attack, you think you'd start living your life to the fullest, live intensely, give your life purpose. It's not what happened to me. All the things I was enjoying before the attack looked vain for several months. After the intense moments reuniting with my family and friends, I isolated myself, only finding a kind of peace when I was alone. Several months after, when I was really down, I went to see a psychologist on my girlfriend's advice. She helped a lot in getting over the sense of survivor's guilt.

Has your perception of Paris changed?
I still love Paris, and I've never thought of leaving since the attack. The state of emergency means there's more military on the streets, which gives the impression of security but also reminds us that we live every day under the threat of a fool with a Kalashnikov or an explosive belt. Despite this threat, I try to live like I always did, because if I don't do that it means that, more than taking my innocence, they would have won.


On March 22, 2016, three coordinated bombings hit Brussels, two at Brussels Airport and one at Maelbeek Metro station. Thirty-two civilians were killed and more than 300 injured. Ebe Daems spoke to two people at Maelbeek Metro station about the long-term consequences of the attack on Brussels.


Do you use the Maelbeek subway station daily?
Maja: Yes, I do, since I work in this district. It could have been me. The day of the attacks my train had passed through Maelbeek an hour and a half before the attack. I was in Bruges to attend a training course that day. My husband also works close to here, so, fortunately, we managed to get in touch immediately. All the trains were canceled that day, so I only managed to get back to Brussels the day after. Naturally, I was really shaken up.

Do you behave differently since the attacks?
No, not really. However, it's always in the back of my mind. I'm constantly aware of the fact that it might happen again—certainly when I attend big events. It doesn't mean I've stopped living, but it's there. That's the biggest change I've noticed in myself and in my circle of friends.


Does having military in the streets make you feel safer?
No, I don't think they can do much if a lone wolf decides to detonate a bomb. Seeing the military in the streets just adds up to the feeling that this is the new normal.

Do you have any advice for the people in Manchester?
I'd tell them to seek support from friends, as well as professionals.


Where were you when the attacks happened?
Mohamed: I was at work. We all started calling our loved ones, but we couldn't get ahold of them because the phone network was too busy. It took about an hour before I could reach my brother and sister, who work close to here.

How did you cope with the attacks?
It's a horrible thing that has happened to all of us, but Arab people, in particular, are affected even more because we're being labeled and stigmatized. It's not because we're Moroccan or Arab that we're all the same. Terrorism has no religion. Even before the attacks, we were frowned upon, but it's twice as bad now. People are afraid. I try even harder to present a good image to people, but some people can never be convinced. If I pass by a lady she clenches her purse, and on public transit, some people even change carriage when they see someone of Moroccan origin.

But you're just as worried as anyone.
Of course! I take the subway here every day. I've become more distrustful. If I see a guy with a bag or someone who behaves strangely on the subway, I watch their movements closely. People in Brussels go out less than before.


Do you have any advice for the people in Manchester?
I was sad to hear about the attacks. I'd say don't let these people, who have no morals or respect, get you down. Stand united, and don't stigmatize a certain group or ethnicity.


On December 19, 2016, a truck intentionally plowed into a Christmas market in central Berlin. Twelve people were killed and 56 injured. Fabian Herriger spoke to people in the street about how Berlin feels half a year after the attack.

Sam, 25, who didn't want to be photographed as he's still worried about the German Intelligence Service

Do you still think about the Breitscheidplatz lorry attack a lot?
Sam: I live near the square and was just around the corner when it happened. The attack shocked me deeply and made me incredibly sad. As a Muslim and an Arab, I keep wondering why anyone would do such a thing. Terror has also changed Berlin for me as an Arab. I feel insecure because I get the impression that people here are quick to judge me and other Arabs.

So you began to notice more prejudice after to the attack?
Yes, but I also had experience with it from before. I'm from Yemen, and during my studies at the Technical University of Berlin, I got into trouble for buying weed and unpaid parking tickets. Unfortunately, I somehow caught the attention of the Federal Intelligence Service. They put me under surveillance because they took me for a terrorist. In truth, I'm actually critical of Islam and I'd probably rather identify as an atheist. The whole thing really shook me—they were watching me and looking into my background. I'm still not over what happened back then.


It sounds harrowing. How did things change for you after the attack in December?
It definitely brought back a lot of those things for me. And ever since, I feel like people in Berlin treat me with the same suspicion as the intelligence agency. I just hope that we young people can move past the hate of older generations and build a new, international society.

Do you ever feel anxious about taking the train or attending big events?
The attack didn't really impact the way I go about my life. I still do everything I did before. I just feel differently about it.

Joana, 27

What were you doing during the attack at Breitscheidplatz?
Joana: I was working at the time and only found out about it when family and friends messaged me to make sure I was alright.

Do you still think about it?
I live in East Berlin, and the attack was in the west, in a place I rarely visit. So even back then, I felt a certain distance to it. But I was still shocked. That feeling is back right now because of the horrible attack in Manchester, and because there's a lot on the news about [Breitscheidplatz perpetrator] Amri.

Have you felt anxious about taking the underground or going places since the attack?
I used to have an uneasy feeling when I had to change trains at Alexanderplatz. But since the attack at Breitscheidplatz, that fear has somehow disappeared. I don't know why. Still, I think twice about going to big events, like the Protestant church congress this weekend.

How long did it take you to process the news initially?
I went out the day after because I still had to buy Christmas presents. I didn't want to let terrorism scare me and take away my freedom.

Do you feel Berlin has changed due to the attack?
I don't see big changes in the city. If anything, I'd say it's made people stand even more united. Most people just go on with their lives, and the attack didn't manage to ruin Berlin's mood.