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Brussels Attacks Survivor Who Refused to Flee: 'It Was Like a War'

Yassin Aanouz: I Couldn't Believe It Was Real 0:35

BRUSSELS — Coming off a vacation in tropical Thailand, Yassin Aanouz was taken aback by the cold Brussels air upon landing at the city's airport on Tuesday.

He stopped to pull a cardigan out of his bag but his three travel buddies didn't wait while he layered up and went on ahead. Aanouz was looking for them in the crowded airport when he heard a boom.

"I thought it was big shelves falling in a shop or something," he told NBC News. Then the second blast — a bomb, he later learned, went off only seconds later not far from where the 20-year-old stood.

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"I knew immediately it was a terrorist attack. I knew it was a terrorist attack so I ducked. I thought they might start shooting," Aanouz explained on Wednesday afternoon..

Once he raised his head he doesn't remember sound, just horror.

"I couldn't hear anything. I could just see movements, people were running," Aanouz said, holding his bandaged arm carefully at his side.

Blast Aftermath Footage Shows Brussels Airport Devastation 0:56

"I saw people with blood, people on the ground ... I could see young children crying, moms looking for their children — it's the first time I was seeing something like this, the first time," he said softly but at rat-a-tat speed. "I couldn't believe it was real. I didn't realize it was real."

The next hour or so passed like a blur — but Aanouz didn't initially feel any pain from injuries to his face and arm.

"With the adrenaline and the shock, everything went very fast," he said. "It was like in a movie ... a nightmare."

Image: Yassin Aanouz, 20, in Anderlecht area of Brussels
Yassin Aanouz Cassandra Vinograd

He said his "first reflex" was to help others. So Aanouz stayed in the battered terminal to help the evacuate the more severely wounded.

"The ambulances were dealing with serious injuries — there were dead people, people whose heads were open. It was horrific," he explained without flinching.

All the while ambulances and police were "all you could see — it was like a war" — and sirens were screaming everywhere.

He was later checked out by the Red Cross, who bandaged his arm and cleaned his facial wound.

The adrenaline did eventually wore off and Aanouz found himself at home in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht with his family. Bandaged and bruised, he wasn't able to sleep.

"I tried but it was impossible — no way," he said.

While he knows his physical wounds will heal, Aanouz is worried about another less visible scar from his brush with terrorism.

"I've been to my doctor — now I need a psychologist," he said plainly. "For these images ... I keep on having these images in my head. When I eat, I have this image in my head, when I walk, I also have these images in my mind. And when I'm with my friends I also have these images in my head. I don't know."

Passengers Run for Their Lives After Airport Bombing 0:19

As he recounted Tuesday's horror, Aanouz spoke quietly and sat rigidly on a cold stone bench in front of the Anderlecht town hall. When the subject turned to the attackers — ISIS — his eyes flashed.

"I have nothing to say about that," he spat out. When pushed, though, the words poured out.

"Frankly, it's dumb. It's completely silly. It's really nonsense, honestly. Attacking babies, moms, elderly people. Innocents. See, it's dumb," Aanouz said.

He later went further, again passionately speaking about how as a young Muslim he sees nothing in the ideology of ISIS — they are killers, pure and simple.

To Aanouz, it's not worth any comparison: "This is not Islam."