"Molenbeek" redirects here. For other uses, see Molenbeek (disambiguation).
Molenbeek-Saint-Jean  (French)


Coat of arms

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 (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 [moːlənˌbeːk sɛ̃ ˈʒɑ̃]), 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.

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 numerous 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 the Paris and Brussels attacks.[4][5][6][7]


Rural beginnings

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. In the early Middle Ages, Molenbeek was known for its miraculous well of Saint Gertrude, which attracted thousands of pilgrims.

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] and its inhabitants lived through an extended period of misery. At the end of the 19th century, Brussels reintegrated the canal area within its new port, which was thus lost to Molenbeek. The industrial decline, which had already started before World War I, accelerated after the Great Depression.

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 revitalisation programs are currently under way, aiming at relieving the most impoverished districts of the municipality.

Tour L'Ecluse, Boulevard Mettewie, Molenbeek

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 mayor Philippe Moureaux announcing its withdrawal from the town.[9] As a result, serious questions were raised about governance, security and the administration of Moureaux.[10]

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

The population as of 1 January 2015 was 95,576.[11] 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.[12] The population of Molenbeek itself, while already impoverished and overcrowded, has further increased by 24.5% in the last decade.[13]

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.[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

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]


As of 2016 there is one main minority group in Molenbeek, Belgian Moroccans. That year Françoise Schepmans, 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.[29]

As of 2016 40% of young people in Molenbeek are unemployed. The commune is in an area of Brussels called the "poor croissant".[29]


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 (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.[30]

Secondary schools:

Points of interest

Regional nature park "Scheutbos"

Notable inhabitants

  • Richard Beauthier (1913–1999), Belgian politician was born there.
  • Norbert Benoit (Norbert Benoit Van Peperstaete) (1910–1993), filmmaker
  • Louis Bertrand (1856–1943), politician
  • Ado Chale (1928–), Belgian artist
  • Serge Creuz (1924–1996), painter
  • Jean De Middeleer (1908–1986), Belgian musician
  • Eugène Demolder (1862–1919), writer
  • Joseph Diongre (1878–1963), modernist architect
  • Alfred Dubois (1898–1949), professor at the Brussels Conservatory, violinist and teacher of Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux
  • Alexis Dumont (1877–1962), architect of the building Citroën was born there.
  • Ferdinand Elbers (1862–1943), a mechanic, trade unionist, and politician
  • Hendrik Fayat (1906–1997), politician
  • Eugene Hins (1839–1923), founder of the newspaper Thought, leading the freethinking Belgian and co-founder of the Socialist International.
  • Guy Huygens (1924–) painter
  • Marcel Josz (1899–1984), actor, was born there
  • Eugène Laermans (1864–1940), painter
  • Daniel Leyniers, Esquire (1881–1957), consul, politician, and bibliophile, was born there.
  • Marka, Serge Van Laeken (b. 1961), singer, songwriter, composer and film-maker
  • Pierre-Joseph Meeûs-Vandermaelen, Mayor of Neder-over-Heembeek in 1830 and Molenbeek-Saint-Jean from 1836 to 1842, the Registrar of the new Court of Auditors from 1831 to 1836 decorated with the Iron Cross (Belgium), etc. He lived at 7 suburb of Flanders.
  • Philippe Moureaux, politician, senator, mayor, and professor of economic history at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (b. 1939)
  • Michel Mourlon (1845–1915), geologist, paleontologist, and curator of the Museum of Natural Sciences of Belgium.
  • Jean Muno (1924–1988), writer
  • Geo Norge (1898–1990), poet
  • Zeynep Sever, Miss Belgium 2008
  • Jean Stampe (1889–1978), war pilot, aircraft manufacturer including the famous Stampe SV-4
  • Eric Struelens (1969–), professional basketball player
  • Herman Teirlinck (1879–1967), writer
  • Pierre Tetar van Elven (1828–1908), painter
  • Toots Thielemans, jazz artist (b. 1922)[35]
  • Henri Thomas (1878–1972), painter
  • Pierre Van Humbeeck (1829–1890), Minister
  • Leon Vanderkindere (1842–1906), historian and prominent professor at the Free University of Brussels was born there.
  • Philippe Vandermaelen (1795–1869), geographer and cartographer recognized worldwide. There were founded the geographical establishment of Brussels.
  • Franky Vercauteren (1956–), Belgian football personality.
  • Firmin Verhevick (1874–1962), painter born in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek.
  • Thierry Zéno, author-filmmaker (b. 1950)

Twin cities


  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. 1 2 "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. "Insécurité à Molenbeek" [Insecurity in Molenbeek]. La Capitale (in French). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  10. "BBDO zwaar ontgoocheld in Moureaux" [BBDO greatly disappointed by Moureaux]. De Standaard (in Dutch). 17 June 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  11. "Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (Commune, Region of Brussels)". Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  12. "'Belgium Will Become an Islamic State'". Gatestone Institute. 9 November 2012. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  13. "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.
  14. "Molenbeek-Saint-Jean". 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. 1 2 Capadites, Christina (2016-04-11). "Molenbeek and Schaerbeek: A tale of two tragedies". CBS News. Retrieved 2016-09-12.
  30. "Ecoles communales fondamentales"/"Gemeentelijke basisscholen." Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. Retrieved on September 8, 2016.
  31. "Autres écoles." Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. Retrieved on September 8, 2016.
  32. Home page. Campus Toverfluit. Retrieved on September 8, 2016.
  33. "Andere scholen." Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. Retrieved on September 8, 2016.
  34. "MIMA : ouverture d'un musée du street art au coeur de Molenbeek". Retrieved 2016-07-26.
  35. "Toots, an icon of the Brussels jazz scene".
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