They gathered in the blistering sun Saturday afternoon, a torch signifying friendship behind them, Miami’s Freedom Tower hovering above.
There were adults and their children and some teenagers. Some had bunches of black, orange and red balloons. Others took pictures. For 60 seconds they stood linked, a moment of silence in memory of the dozens who died and hundreds more who were injured during an assault on their homeland last week.
“For all of us, Belgium is special,” said Cynthia Legrande. “We’re here to at least show Belgians we support them and hopefully this will never happen again.”
Last Tuesday, the terror network ISIS claimed responsibility for a wave of attacks in Brussels that took 31 lives, and injured more than 230 others. First, a bomb exploded at Brussels Airport. A little more than an hour later another one ripped through the Maelbeek subway station in downtown Brussels during the height of the morning rush hour.
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Later that afternoon, the Islamic State issued a bulletin saying Belgium was targeted because it is participating in the coalition fighting in the Mideast to rid ISIS from Iraq and Syria.
Like the November attacks in Paris, the hit on Brussels struck a raw nerve. And Miami’s Belgian community — a small but tight-knit group of about 2,600 — contacted family and friends and kept constant watch of the cable news networks.
Saturday, about 50 members of that community met on the steps of the Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park. It was an odd juxtaposition: The group forming a semi-circle in front of Biscayne Boulevard as tourist guides spoke to visitors on double-decker buses and a group nearby shouted on about how they were the true Israelites.
Many of the Belgians took solace in how it was those very freedoms that the terrorists were trying to thwart when they attacked their homeland.
Francoise and her husband Guy Posschelle have a home just a few blocks from where one of the bombs went off in Brussels last week. They live full time in Miami. The couple was awakened moments after the bombs went off by friends and family trying to reach them through the WhatsApp on their phone and home computer.
“We’re disgusted because we see all the immigrants taking advantage of the system,” said Francoise. “How can they go against the people of Belgium, where they live. And I have anger of course, and then compassion. I don’t understand. What is there to gain?”
Saturday’s gathering was organized by Legrande and Belgian Honorary Consul Manuel Molina, whose office sent out emails with the gathering plan. “Belgium’s motto has never been more fitting,” read the email. “Unity makes strength.”
Said Molina: “Horrible and hateful, these attacks. They hate us for our values and democracy and the way we’re living.”