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"Molenbeek" redirects here. For other uses, see Molenbeek (disambiguation).
Molenbeek-Saint-Jean  (French)
Brusel, Ninoofsestenweg.jpg
Flag of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek
Coat of arms of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek
Coat of arms
Sint-Jans-Molenbeek is located in Belgium
Location in Belgium
Coordinates: 50°51′28″N 04°18′57″E / 50.85778°N 4.31583°E / 50.85778; 4.31583Coordinates: 50°51′28″N 04°18′57″E / 50.85778°N 4.31583°E / 50.85778; 4.31583
Country Belgium
Community Flemish Community
French Community
Region Brussels
Arrondissement Brussels
 • Mayor Françoise Schepmans (fr) (MR)
 • Total 5.89 km2 (2.27 sq mi)
Population (1 January 2016)[1]
 • Total 96,586
 • Density 16,000/km2 (42,000/sq mi)
Postal codes 1080
Area codes 02

Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (Dutch, pronounced [sɪn ˈcɑns ˈmoːlə(m)ˌbeːk]) or Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (French, pronounced: [molənbeːk sɛ̃ ʒɑ̃]), often simply called Molenbeek, is one of 19 municipalities in the Brussels-Capital Region (Belgium). It is bordered by the City of Brussels, Anderlecht, Sint-Agatha-Berchem, Dilbeek, Jette and Koekelberg. Sint-Jans-Molenbeek is bordered to the east by the Brussels-Charleroi Canal. The Molenbeek brook, from which it takes its name, flows through the municipality.

In 2014, the municipality had a population of 94,854 inhabitants.[2] It is densely populated, at 16,357/km², twice the average of Brussels. The upper area is greener and less densely populated.

In 2015, the municipality gained international attention as the base of Islamic terrorists, who carried out attacks in both France and Belgium. The municipality's mayor has described it as "a breeding ground for violence".[3] The commune of Molenbeek has gained a reputation for being a safe haven for jihadists in relation to the support shown by some residents towards the bombers who carried out terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.[4][5][6][7]

The municipality's patron saint is Saint John the Baptist.


The name Molenbeek comes from two Dutch words: molen, meaning "mill", and beek, meaning "brook". Although first applied to the brook that ran through the village, the name eventually came to be used to designate the village itself, around the year 985.


Rural beginnings[edit]

As early as the 9th century, Molenbeek was the site of a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. In the early Middle Ages, Molenbeek was known for its miraculous well of Saint Gertrude, which attracted thousands of pilgrims.

Saint John’s Dancers in Molenbeeck’ (1592) by Pieter Brueghel II

The village was made part of Brussels in the 13th century. As a result, Molenbeek lost a lot of its land to its more powerful neighbour. In addition, its main church was dismantled in 1578, leading to further decline. The town's character remained mostly rural until the 18th century.


At the end of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution and the building of the Brussels-Charleroi Canal brought prosperity back to Molenbeek through commerce and manufacturing. In 1785, the town regained its status as an independent commune. Attracted by the industrial opportunities, many workers moved in, first from other Belgian provinces and France, then from South European, and more recently from East European and African countries.

The growth of the community continued unabated throughout the 19th century, leading to cramped living conditions, especially near the canal. The town became known as "Little Manchester".[8] In 1835, Molenbeek was the departure site of the first passenger train on the European continent.[9] At the end of the 19th century, Brussels reintegrated the canal area within its new port, which was thus lost to Molenbeek.

20th century[edit]

Until the early 20th century, Molenbeek was a booming suburb which attracted a large working-class population. The industrial decline, which had already started before World War I, accelerated after the Great Depression.

Following the industrial decline after the war, began the depopulation of the districts bordering the City of Brussels. This was not compensated until the 1960s through the construction of new residential areas in the then rural west of the town. In 1990, this expansion was stopped, leaving some woods and meadows in Molenbeek: the Scheutbos.

Tour L'Ecluse, Boulevard Mettewie, Molenbeek

Where Molenbeek was once a centre of intense industrial activity, concentrated around the canal and the railway, most of those industries have disappeared to make way for large-scale urban renewal following the modernist Athens Charter. The industrial past is remembered in a museum of social and industrial history built on the site of the foundry.

21st century[edit]

The population as of 1 January 2015 was 95,576.[10] The area is 5.9 km², making the density over 16 000/km². The population has been described as "mainly Muslim" in the media;[8] however, actual figures range between 25% and 40%, depending on the catchment area.[11] The population of Molenbeek itself, while already impoverished and overcrowded, has further increased by 24.5% in the last decade.[12]

In some areas of the town, the ensuing poverty left its mark on the urban landscape and scarred the social life of the community, leading to rising crime rates and pervading cultural intolerance. Various local revitalization programs are currently under way, aiming at relieving the most impoverished districts of the municipality.

Attempts at revitalizing the municipality have, however, not been successful. In June 2011, the multinational company BBDO, citing over 150 attacks on their staff by locals, posted an open letter to then mayor Philippe Moureaux, announcing its withdrawal from the town.[13] As a result, serious questions were raised about governance, security and the administration of Moureaux.[14]


According to Le Monde, the assassins who killed anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud both came from Molenbeek.[15] Hassan el-Haski, one of the 2004 Madrid terror bombers came from Molenbeek.[16][17] The perpetrator of the Jewish Museum of Belgium shooting, Mehdi Nemmouche, lived in Molenbeek for a time.[18] Ayoub El Khazzani, the perpetrator of the 2015 Thalys train attack, stayed with his sister in Molenbeek.[19] French police believe the weapons used in the Porte de Vincennes siege the same day as the Charlie Hebdo shooting were sourced from Molenbeek.[20] The bombers of the November 2015 Paris attacks were also traced to Molenbeek;[21] during the Molenbeek capture of Salah Abdeslam, an accomplice of the Paris bombers, protesters "threw stones and bottles at police and press during the arrest", stated the Interior Minister of Belgium, Jan Jambon.[22]

November 2015 Paris attacks[edit]

At least three of the terrorists in the November 2015 Paris attacks — the brothers Brahim and Salah Abdeslam, alleged accomplice Mohamed Abrini, and the alleged mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud — are men who grew up and lived in Molenbeek. According to French President François Hollande, that was also where they organised the attacks.[23] On 18 March 2016, Salah Abdeslam, a suspected accomplice in those attacks, was captured in two anti-terrorist raids in Molenbeek that killed another suspect and injured two others. At least one other suspect remains at large.[24][25][26][27] Ibrahim (born 9 October 1986 in Brussels) was involved in the attempted robbery of a currency exchange office in January 2010, where he shot at police with a Kalashnikov rifle. The Mayor of Brussels, Freddy Thielemans, and the Mayor of Molenbeek, Philippe Moureaux, described the shooting as a "fait divers" (a small daily news item) and "normal in a large city", causing controversy.[28]

Police investigation[edit]

As several of the attackers in the Brussels and Paris terrorist attacks had connections to the area, Belgian police started door-to-door checks where a quarter of Molenbeek's inhabitants were investigated, a total of 22 668. This operation resulted in that of the 1600 organisations investigated, 102 were found to be involved with crime and a further 52 were involved with terrorism. 72 individuals were found to have terrorist connection and were subject to future surveillance.[29][30]


Comte de Flandre Station, Molenbeek

There are two distinct areas of Molenbeek: a lower area and a higher area. The lower area consists of working-class, mainly migrant, communities, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan descent, with many being second- and third-generation. The higher area features newer construction and is mostly residential.[31]

The area along the canal is currently experiencing a large revitalization programme, as part of the "Plan Canal" of the Brussels-Capital Region.[32]


As of 2016, there is one main minority group in Molenbeek, Belgian Morrocans. That year Françoise Schepmans (fr), Mayor of Molenbeek, stated that the lack of diversity in the foreign population of Molenbeek and the fact they are all clustered in the same area is a problem.[33]

As of 2016, nearly 40% of young people in Molenbeek are unemployed. The commune lies in a semi-circle of neighbourhoods in Brussels often referred to as the "poor croissant".[33]

Molenbeek town hall


The municipality is governed by an elected municipal council and an executive college of the mayor and aldermen. The longtime mayor from 1992 to 2012 was Philippe Moureaux (PS). Following the Belgian local elections, 2012, an alternative majority was formed headed by mayor Françoise Schepmans (fr) (MR) and consisting of MR (15 seats), CDH-CD&V (6 seats) and Ecolo-Groen (4 seats). The Socialist Party (16 seats) became the opposition next to the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB), Democratic Federalist Independent (DéFI), the ISLAM party and the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), each having one seat.


The Molenbeek football team, FC Brussels, used to play in the Belgian first division. They folded at the end of 2012/13 as members of the Belgian second division.


There are 17 French-language and six Dutch-language primary schools.[34]

Secondary schools:

Points of interest[edit]

Church of St John the Baptist
Karreveld Castle

Several rundown industrial buildings have been renovated and converted into prime real estate and other community functions. Examples include:

  • The Raffinerie, a former sugar refinery, now the site of a cultural and modern dance complex.
  • The Fonderie, a former smelter of the Compagnie des Bronzes de Bruxelles, operational from 1854 to 1979, now home to the Brussels Museum of Industry and Labor. The museum focuses on the industry, coupled with the social history of the Molenbeek, and the impact that industrialization had on the development of the municipality.
  • The Bottelarij, a bottling plant that housed the Royal Flemish Theatre, during the renovation of the theatre, in the centre of Brussels.

Other points of interest include:

  • The church of St John the Baptist, an Art Deco Catholic church built between 1931-1932.
  • The Neo-Gothic Saint Remigius church (1907)
  • The Saint-Barbara church (1894)
  • The Karreveld Castle and surrounding park is used for cultural events and the meetings of the municipal council. Since 1999, the castle hosts from mid-July to September the Festival Bruxellons! (fr),[38] a theatre festival open to other performing arts (magic, music, circus, etc.)
  • Molenbeek cemetery, including its recently renovated columbarium.
  • A brewery, the Brasserie de la Senne.
  • In the former buildings of the brewery Belle-Vue, opened in April 2016, the MIMA, Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art, a museum dedicated to culture 2.0 and to urban art and is the first of the kind in Europe.[39]
  • The impressive Tour & Taxis buildings and surrounding area bordering the municipality, which will be turned into residences, as well as commercial enterprises.
  • Brussels' Circus School, installed in the buildings of Tour & Taxis.

Parks and green spaces[edit]

Regional nature park "Scheutbos (nl)

Green spaces in the commune include:[40]

  • Scheutbos Park, a regional nature park of 6 ha (14.8 acres)
  • Semi-natural site of the Scheutbos, a protected area of 44 ha (108 acres)
  • Karreveld Park
  • Marie-José Park
  • Albert Park
  • Park of the Muses
  • Hauwaert Park
  • Bonnevie Park
  • Fonderie Park

Notable inhabitants[edit]

Twin cities[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Lamfalussy, Christophe; Martin, Jean-Pierre (2017). Molenbeek-sur-djihad. Paris: Grasset. ISBN 9782246862765. 


  1. ^ Population per municipality as of 1 January 2016 (XLS; 397 KB)
  2. ^ "Chiffres-clés par commune — fr". Retrieved 23 December 2015. 
  3. ^ Levitt, Matthew (27 March 2016). "My Journey To Brussels' Terrorist Safe Haven". Politico. 
  4. ^ "Brussels attacks: Molenbeek's gangster jihadists". BBC. 24 March 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  5. ^ "The Belgian neighborhood indelibly linked to jihad". Washington Post. 15 November 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  6. ^ "Beleaguered Molenbeek struggles to fend off jihadist recruiters". The Times of Israel. 3 April 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  7. ^ "World points to "jihad Capital" Molenbeek". Het Niuewsblad. 16 November 2015. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "Paris attacks: Visiting Molenbeek, the police no-go zone that was home to two of the gunmen". The Independent. 17 November 2015. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  9. ^ "Histoire en quelques mots — Français". Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  10. ^ "Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (Commune, Region of Brussels)". Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  11. ^ " 'Belgium Will Become an Islamic State' ". Gatestone Institute. 9 November 2012. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  12. ^ "La population de Molenbeek augmente de 25% en 10 ans" [The population of Molenbeek increases 25% in 10 years]. l' (in French). Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  13. ^ "Insécurité à Molenbeek" [Insecurity in Molenbeek]. La Capitale (in French). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  14. ^ "BBDO zwaar ontgoocheld in Moureaux" [BBDO greatly disappointed by Moureaux]. De Standaard (in Dutch). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  15. ^ Stroobants, Jean Pierre (16 November 2015). "Molenbeek, la plaque tournante belge du terrorisme islamiste". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved 12 April 2016. c’est de Molenbeek que sont partis les tueurs du commandant afghan Ahmed Shah Massoud, principal adversaire du régime des talibans, assassiné par deux faux journalistes. 
  16. ^ Bartunek, Robert-Jan; Lewis, Barbara (15 November 2015). "Belgian connection: three held in Brussels over Paris attacks". Reuters. Retrieved 11 April 2016. A prominent, Moroccan-born member of the group behind the 2004 Madrid train bombings that killed 191 was from Molenbeek. 
  17. ^ "Why did the bombers target Belgium?". The Guardian. 22 March 2016. Retrieved 11 April 2016. Hassan el-Haski – Madrid and Casablanca bombings - A Spanish judge sentenced Haski to 14 years in jail for belonging to a terrorist organisation, in connection with the March 2004 attacks on Madrid. 
  18. ^ Newton-Small, Jay (16 November 2015). "The Belgian Suburb at the Heart of the Paris Attacks Probe". Time. Retrieved 11 April 2016. May 2014, three people were killed and one injured in a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium by alleged terrorist Mehdi Nemmouche, who is awaiting trial and spent time in Molenbeek 
  19. ^ Torfs, Michaël (25 August 2015). " 'Suspect lived in Brussels before attempted Thalys attack' ". De Redactie. 
  20. ^ Lewis, Barbara; Bartunek, Robert-Jan (15 November 2015). "Belgian connection: three held in Brussels over Paris attacks". Reuters. Retrieved 11 April 2016. Molenbeek. The area has been connected with two attacks in France this year. Security officials have said the Islamist who killed people at a Paris kosher grocery in January at the time of the attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo acquired weapons in the district. 
  21. ^ Lynch, Julia (5 April 2016). "Here's why so many of Europe's terrorist attacks come through this one Brussels neighborhood". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 April 2016. Molenbeek had been linked to radical Islamist terrorism. One of 19 'communes' in the Brussels metro area, the neighborhood was home to one of the attackers in the 2004 commuter train bombings in Madrid and to the Frenchman who shot four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in August 2014. The Moroccan shooter on the Brussels-Paris Thalys train in August 2015 stayed with his sister there. French police suspect that the weapons used in the Paris supermarket attack connected with the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015 were acquired in Molenbeek, and the attackers in the November 2015 Paris bombings were traced to Brussels by way of a parking ticket issued on a rental car in Molenbeek. 
  22. ^ "Belgian minister says many Muslims 'danced' after attacks". Agence France-Presse. 16 April 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2016. They threw stones and bottles at police and press during the arrest of Salah Abdeslam. That is the real problem. 
  23. ^ "Paris attacks: Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud identified as presumed mastermind". CBC News. 16 November 2015. Retrieved 16 November 2015. 
  24. ^ "Shots in Brussels raid tied to Paris attacks". CNN. 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016. 
  25. ^ "Gunfire in Brussels raid on 'Paris attacks suspects'". BBC News. 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016. 
  26. ^ "Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam shot, arrested in Brussels raid". Russia Today. 18 March 2016. Retrieved 18 March 2016. 
  27. ^ "Paris attacks: Salah Abdeslam 'worth his weight in gold'". BBC News. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  28. ^ "Schietpartij in Anderlecht was fait divers". Het Laatste Nieuws. 2 February 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2016. 
  29. ^ "Belgium's Molenbeek home to 51 groups with terror links: report". Politico. 20 March 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2017. 
  30. ^ "51 Molenbeekse vzw's verdacht van terreurbanden". De Morgen. 20 March 2017. Retrieved 28 March 2017. 
  31. ^ "Molenbeek-Saint-Jean". Retrieved 18 November 2015. 
  32. ^ "Plan canal: des ambitions, une méthode, une équipe |". Retrieved 2017-04-28. 
  33. ^ a b Capadites, Christina (2016-04-11). "Molenbeek and Schaerbeek: A tale of two tragedies". CBS News. Retrieved 2016-09-12. 
  34. ^ "Ecoles communales fondamentales"/"Gemeentelijke basisscholen." Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. Retrieved on September 8, 2016.
  35. ^ "Autres écoles — Français". Retrieved September 8, 2016. 
  36. ^ "Campus Toverfluit". 
  37. ^ "Andere scholen — Nederlands". Retrieved September 8, 2016. 
  38. ^ "Festival Bruxellons!". 
  39. ^ "MIMA : ouverture d'un musée du street art au coeur de Molenbeek". Retrieved 2016-07-26. 
  40. ^ "Espaces verts à Molenbeek-Saint-Jean — Français". Retrieved 2016-12-29. 
  41. ^ "Toots, an icon of the Brussels jazz scene". 

External links[edit]

Media related to Sint-Jans-Molenbeek at Wikimedia Commons