Extraordinary stories of survival by Portuguese nationals caught up in Brussels’ terror attacks are filling the pages of national media today as it has been confirmed that President Marcelo will be attending the Portugal-Belgium friendly game next Tuesday that has been switched to Leiria in the interests of safety.
According to reports coming from Brussels yesterday, 21 Portuguese are still being treated in hospital for injuries suffered in the bomb blasts at Maalbeek metro station and Brussels’ airport. At this point, there are no further details although Correio da Manhã suggests the number “may reduce slightly” as the list held by authorities includes three with the same date of birth “and very similar names”.
Meantime, survivors’ stories are getting widespread exposure.
CM carries an account from café owner António Mendes who claims Paris bomber Salah Abdeslam – whose detention in Brussels preceded the attacks – was a regular at his La Cox café in the city until a couple of months ago.
“We never knew his name,” the emigré from Setúbal told reporters. “But when we saw his picture on the television, and realised that he was a terrorist, we were shocked.”
Abdeslam used to say “Bom dia”, said Mendes, drink coffee and play the café’s machines.
Metro worker André Pinto, 28, is one of the survivors of last Tuesday’s attack who has already been released from hospital.
With his foot heavily bandaged and 50% hearing loss, he has told reporters of the post-explosion horror where he had to step over inanimate figures, pass people with horrendous burns to their faces, as he scrambled to climb up to ground level.
“I didn’t think of anyone or anything,” he said. “I just wanted to get out.”
A Brussels’ resident since babyhood, Pinto says if he had been 15 metres further down the station, he “wouldn’t be here now”.
A similar lucky escape blessed airport car rentals employee Rui Carvalho, 31. “I heard the first explosion,” he told CM. “I knew straight away it was a terrorist attack.”
Carvalho and other workmates hid in the airport’s public conveniences, fearing the worst.
“There were no emergency exits and we didn’t know if suddenly someone would arrive with a weapon, like what happened in Paris.
“It is going to be difficult to go back to work,” he added. “What we felt (before the attacks) was a false sense of security. There were soldiers (patrolling) but in the end anyone armed can enter an airport.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by other Portuguese living in the Belgian capital.
Henrique Burnay, who works for the European Parliament, said “these attacks could continue” as these last horrors “were prepared in a period of heightened security”.
Portugal’s minister of defence Azeredo Lopes told reporters that he “hopes they (terrorists) never try to do the same to us… We have to try and do better, be more efficient”, he said.
Fear though is ever-present. In Lisbon yesterday, the area around Entrecampos railway station was brought to a halt over a ‘suspicious package’ that snarled traffic for hours. Bomb squad operatives were called in, but the alert was dropped by 9pm.
With the world’s media focused on the search for the “third man” from the airport attacks, a possible second Metro bomber and the fact that one of the airport suicide bombers was a known jihadist, security services here are being said to have “elaborated a list of potential terrorist targets”, including “Sines refinery, bridges, frontiers, trains, shopping centres, and popular tourist/ strategic/ economic points around the country”.
Portugal’s threat level – like those throughout Europe – has raised, while border controls are being reinforced.
As internal affairs minister Constança Sousa has confirmed that “Portuguese authorities continue in permanent contact with those in Europe”.
The news that President Marcelo has decided to attend next Tuesday’s friendly football game, switched from Brussels’ King Baudouin Stadium, came last night from his official press attaché in Belém.