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In Neighborhood Tied To Paris Attackers, Muslims Rally Against ISIS


And I'm David Greene in Paris this morning, where French authorities conducted a dramatic raid on two apartments in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis. There were explosions and then gunfire, and a woman blew herself up with a suicide vest. The perimeter of that area is still sealed off as the day is drawing to a close here in Paris. Nightfall has come. The apparent target of the attack was Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who authorities believe planned last Friday's attacks in Paris. Abaaoud originally comes from a neighborhood in Brussels, Belgium, called Molenbeek, which NPR's Peter Kenyon explored for us elsewhere in the program today. In fact, at least one other of the suspects in the attacks also grew up in this neighborhood, which Belgian authorities have targeted as a hotbed of extremism. But today, Muslims from across Brussels are holding a rally in this neighborhood, insisting they are not all extremists. NPR's Peter Kenyon is on the line from that neighborhood. Peter, how are you?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi. How's it going, David? We're all right - and a chilly evening.

GREENE: Chilly evening in what sounds like, potentially, a very emotional event. I mean, just describe this rally to us and the message people are sending.

KENYON: It is a bit emotional. It's described as a peace rally. And people from all walks of life are here - local residents and people from other areas. They've come to the main square in Molenbeek, where just a couple of days ago there was all kinds of police activity. But this message is one of peace. They're here to say we are just as appalled at the Paris attacks as everyone else. There's some people in this area who have done wrong things. Now, I'm telling you what people have been telling me. But the message is they have to stand together and unify against terrorism, and they really want to be united. And they do not want any more people attacking them as all terrorists here.

GREENE: And what's the scene like? How many people are there, Peter? And are people carrying banners? Are they chanting, mostly quiet? What's it like?

KENYON: There are squares. And the - there are people lighting candles. There are people - there are going to be balloons launched here in a little bit. There are people writing signs, holding up banners. There's a speech by the deputy mayor, who said it's time to show that Molenbeek can be a place of light as well as dark. And it's a defiant effort in a way because of their security fears, as well. I mean, getting into this square was quite difficult - much harder than the past two days. There are long lines at barricades at every entrance to this public square. And so there's clearly a reason to be nervous, but people have turned out anyway. They say they feel an obligation to.

GREENE: Have people in this neighborhood already felt a sense of discrimination, retaliation since the events in Paris last week?

KENYON: Yes. There's a definite feeling of people on edge. And there's tension. And they feel that they're all being blamed for the acts of very few people. As one young man told me a few minutes ago, you know, even if a hundred people went to Syria to fight with ISIS, there's 100,000 people here just in this neighborhood. You know, that's a tiny percentage. And we really don't enjoy all being tarred with the same grime.

GREENE: You know, I was really struck, Peter, this morning in your piece from Molenbeek. I mean, there was at least one person who said that she was surprised that her neighborhood was even being characterized as a place known for extremism. Has this really caught people off-guard?

KENYON: In some ways it has. The sheer intensity of both the disaster, the killings in Paris and the police response two days ago, when streets were locked down houses searched, that did catch people here. They're used to living a very conservative, very quiet, ordinary life here. They're looking for jobs. Unemployment is high. But there's - the young woman with children that we spoke to said nothing like this has ever happened in her experience.

GREENE: All right. Peter Kenyon, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, David.

GREENE: That is NPR's Peter Kenyon, who is in Molenbeek, Brussels. That is a neighborhood that has been seen and characterized as a hotbed of extremism. But the residents in that neighborhood are fighting that message this evening in a march, saying we are not all extremists - an emotional evening that Peter Kenyon is covering for us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.