Crowds run for safety, though they can’t be sure where to find it. Survivors emerge, shocked and injured. An aftermath unfolds: emergency vehicles, the wounded treated on the streets, a confused public marshalled by frantic officials.
It seems we witness these scenes – these hallmarks of horror – with increasing regularity.
Yesterday morning, Brussels became the latest European city to find itself under attack from a murderous, savage ideology. Islamic State (Isis) has claimed responsibility for the bombings that killed more than 30 people and wounded nearly 200 at Zaventem Airport and the Maalbeek metro station.
The first attack, in the check-in area of the city’s airport, left 11 dead. Witnesses report people running to escape the first explosion, only to find themselves snared in the blast of a second. In the metro station, just yards from the institutions of the European Union, 20 more were killed as a rush-hour train was targeted.
For Londoners, the parallels with the 7/7 attack are all too clear. For all of us, the sense of just how close we are to this enemy will be stark. As President Francois Hollande said yesterday: “The terrorists have struck Belgium but it is Europe that was targeted.”
So what response should Europe offer in the face of such barbarity? There are the immediate reactions: grief, concern for loved ones, solidarity. Statements are issued from world leaders, flags are lowered and landmarks are illuminated with the colours of the Belgian flag.
And then there is there a need for a deeper response: iron-strong resolve in the supremacy of our liberal values, our democracy, our laws and our freedoms. Hollande, who knows from bitter experience the mood of a nation reeling from attack, says our reaction must be “calm, lucid and determined”.
Despite this, right-wing parties across Europe have already linked the latest attacks with migration, and while the opportunism is distasteful, it is true that the continent faces unprecedented challenges. The notorious Molenbeek district of Brussels, for example, is a cauldron of radicalism, criminality and deprivation.
Belgium, whose security services are stretched almost beyond breaking point, will require practical, tangible help in dealing with this dangerous reality. Nearly 500 young Muslims have left Belgium for Isis-controlled territory. More than 5,000 have travelled there from across Europe. Domestic efforts to stem this flow must be combined with a fixity of purpose abroad to cut the head from the snake.