People were searched and asked for ID by police as they entered the square for the candlelight vigil while many of the residents lined their balconies and windowsills with lit candles.
About 40% of its 96,000 population is Muslim and it has experienced a 25% increase over the past five years, making it the fastest growing part of Belgium.
Many of the Islamist terror incidents of the past few years, from the killings at the Jewish museum in the city, the foiled attempt on the Thalys train, the Charlie Hebdo murders and the weekend’s attacks are all linked to people who lived in the commune or sheltered there.
The commune’s mayor and the Belgian interior minister both admitted that they had failed to prevent radicalisation of the many youth who live there despite managing to dramatically decrease the numbers going to fight with ISIS from Antwerp and other cities.
But prime minister Charles Michel hit back at Belgium being blamed for allowing a jihadi cell to recruit, get weapons, make bombs and plan the horrific Paris attacks.
He reminded the public that the Belgian authorities had uncovered a cell in Verviers before they carried out a planned attack, and more than 160 people were brought before the courts and convicted in relation to terrorism in the past few months.
Among the crowd gathered in Molenbeek last night were some friends who had been at school with some of those involved in the weekend atrocities including Salah Abdeslam, who had been questioned by Belgian police on his way back from France in the early hours of Saturday morning.
“He was just an ordinary guy. We didn’t have much contact and I think he dropped out of school, but we had moved to another school”, said two of the girls who did not want to give their names.
Small banners with the name of Molenbeck, including a sketch of the Eiffel tower in the ‘O’ , were being handed out, lots of people held home made posters with the work ‘peace’ and large colourful sheets with slogans in various languages including “I’m Muslim, not a terrorist”.