Europe, after Brussels

How can it meet its challenges without giving up its way of life?

Written by Tara Schlegel | Updated: March 29, 2016 12:03 am
Belgian soldiers patrol as people pay tribute to the victims of Tuesday's bomb attacks at the Place de la Bourse in Brussels, Belgium, March 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Francois Lenoir Belgian soldiers patrol as people pay tribute to the victims of Tuesday’s bomb attacks at the Place de la Bourse in Brussels, Belgium. (Source: Reuters)

Belgian investigators have identified three of the four perpetrators of the Brussels attacks. It can already be said that they belong to the same group as those who committed the Paris attacks four months ago. The tragedy is thus all the greater for Brussels, as they could have been arrested.

Two of the four suicide bombers in Brussels were brothers holding Belgian nationality. Brahim el-Bakraoui, who attacked Zaventem airport, was already on a wanted list but solely for organised crime. Sentenced to nine years in 2010 for having fired on the Belgian police, he had been on conditional release since 2015 but was wanted for violating the terms of his release. His younger brother, Khalid, is the one who killed 20 commuters at the Maelbeek metro station. He had earlier been sentenced to five years for car-jacking.

There are many links between the el-Bakraoui brothers and the November 13, 2015 Paris attacks. Khalid had rented an apartment in Forest, a Brussels commune, where a routine search on March 15 almost turned into a disaster. Six policemen, almost unarmed, found themselves face-to-face with three individuals who didn’t hesitate to fire. Two fled while the third was gunned down. He was an Algerian named Mohamed Belkaïd, one of the Paris masterminds. He was the one whom the terrorists texted, ahead of firing on the Paris cafés on November 13.

But that wasn’t all the Forest apartment yielded. Investigators also found traces of Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving Paris attacker. Abdeslam was arrested three days after the Forest raid, on March 18. Voices are raised in Belgium now about precautionary measures that should have been taken after his arrest. It’s also known that Khalid had rented two apartments last autumn, which served as the terrorists’ hideaway on the eve of the Paris attacks. Apart from the el-Bakraoui brothers, the police have also identified a third suicide bomber at Zaventem, Najim Laachraoui. He was probably the bombmaker — investigators have found his DNA on the explosive belts used in Paris. For a long time, these would-be terrorists criss-crossed borders. Thus, Laachraoui and Abdeslam were stopped at border controls in Austria in September 2015 — and waved on.

On Wednesday, the police raided the apartment from which the three airport bombers set off. They found 150 litres of acetone and 15 kg of TATP, a suitcase full of nails and detonators. In a garbage bin in front of this Schaerbeek building was found Brahim el-Bakraoui’s laptop, with a message presented by the federal police as his “suicide note”. There’s no reference to the Islamic State, but el-Bakraoui says he’s being “hunted down”, is “in haste”, and “no longer sure what to do”, as he’s “wanted everywhere”.

The Islamist connection that links the perpetrators of Brussels to those of Paris shoots down the “lone wolf” theory and supports the network theory. As early as January 2015, a week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, Belgian police dismantled a jihadi network in Verviers. At the time, Abdelhamid Abaaoud (the other Paris mastermind) escaped by the skin of his teeth.

On Tuesday, French President François Hollande declared, “Through these attacks in Brussels, it is all of Europe that has been struck.” It’s true that the Maelbeek station is less than 300 metres, as the crow flies, from the European Commission and the Council of Europe. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the Commission, went ahead with the daily midday press briefing so as not to succumb to the terrorist threat. The people of Brussels, who gathered spontaneously at Place de la Bourse on Tuesday evening, gave the impression that this tragedy was inevitable. For, over the past few years, Belgium has become a particularly fertile jihadist hotbed. According to the Soufan Group, 470 Belgians have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq. In terms of proportion to the population, this is the largest European contingent. In Antwerp, the Sharia4Belgium organisation was active from 2010 to 2012.

What’s the explanation for this generation, often born and raised in Belgium, going astray? Some point to discrimination: If 8.5 per cent Belgians are unemployed, this scourge affects 25 per cent of North African or Maghreb-origin workers. This rate is sometimes two-times higher among the youth in certain neighbourhoods. In this hotbed without hope, radical discourse takes root more easily. The other explanation is the strong influence of Saudi Arabia. In the 1960s, King

Baudouin entrusted the building and management of the Grand Mosque in the Parc du Cinquantenaire to Riyadh. Since then, Saudi Arabia has been preaching and organising the bulk of Belgian Islam. Entrusting the keys of a religion to a foreign power isn’t free of risk. The imams started preaching a Salafist Islam, in an essentially “pacific” or non-violent form, explains Michaël Privot, a Belgian Islamic scholar. But this rigid form of Islam has “an extremely polarising and hierarchising approach to society, which only creates chasms with non-Muslims”.

The Molenbeek commune (where the Sheikh of the Grand Mosque has followers) has become a haunt for terrorists. This isn’t a recent occurrence. Tunisian Dahmane Abd el-Sattar, one of the assassins of Ahmad Shah Massoud, had long resided in Molenbeek. One of the 2004 Madrid attackers, Hassan el-Haski, had also lived there. More recently, Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed four at the Jewish museum in Brussels in May 2014, passed several weeks in Molenbeek. Ayoub el-Khazzani, who boarded a Thalys train for Amsterdam on August 21, 2015 armed with a Kalashnikov, also stayed in Molenbeek.

Since the 1990s, Belgium has been a nerve centre for arms trafficking in Europe. Albanian and Chechen mafia networks were able to gain a foothold in eastern Belgium. It’s thought that it was in Charleroi that Amedy Coulibaly procured the weapons he used to attack the kosher supermarket in Paris on January 9, 2015.

Faced with these challenges, Europe is struggling to find a joint response. Ten years have elapsed since some states wished to adopt the common PNR (passenger name records), which would centralise information on flight passengers. It was only in December 2015 that the Committee on Civil Liberties of the European Parliament adopted it. However, some MEPs still refuse to vote in favour, as they consider it prejudicial to liberties.

How can one be forearmed against terror without giving up the insouciance of our way of life, our tradition of hospitality, and individual freedoms? This is the real challenge that European societies must meet.

Translated from French.

The writer is a reporter and presenter on France Culture, a part of Radio France, who specialises in immigration, justice and education issues.

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  1. K
    K SHESHU
    Mar 29, 2016 at 4:51 pm
    The european Union along with US are squarely responsible for the killings in West Asia and Africa. Those Muslims are now directinjig therr ire on the west
    Reply
    1. A
      Afzal Ahmad
      Mar 29, 2016 at 9:39 pm
      USA led NATO gangsters are responsible for all these unfortunate incidences. For their selfish gains, they destro most of the Islamic world from stan to Morocco via Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Nations, Syria, Jordan, Lebnon, Palestene, Ghaza, Egypt, Sudan, Lybia, Tunisia, Algeria, Chad, Male, Morocco etc. They not only forced them to bow in-front of them but also to follow their diktat apart from capturing their natural wealth especially oil by their brutal force and by killing hundreds of millions people. Six billion people of world don't have courage to ask the greatest terrorist of world USA to live and let live others in peace. When they created genocide and loot in these countries, didn't they think that what will be its ultimate result. From where these persons are getting arms and its ammunition. these have been and are still being supplied by these enemy of humanity, USA led NATO. As you sow so you reap and that's what exactly happening. Unless the gangsters, especially USA don't stop their genocide, loot and targeted killing like Saddam and Ghaddafi and unless Bush, Blair, Howarth etc are not tried for war crime and punished, it will be difficult to stop.
      Reply
      1. a
        anand-m
        Mar 30, 2016 at 10:54 am
        A superficial, pseudo-intellectual and hypocritical article, without the least hint of self criticism!! The European/Western "way of life" was, is and will be a disaster for the rest of the world - cultural, social, economic, environmental and political. The west had/has no qualms about changing the way life of other nations and cultures all over the world, be it through colonisation, manition, missioneering, sowing discord, overthrowing of democratically elected governments and so on. Now that they are facing the results, they are "concerned". Strangely, most westerners do not ask themselves who pays for the western "way of life" - the coffee for their cafe au lait does not grow in Europe, nor does the cocoa for their chocolate, nor the cotton for their fashionable clothes. The same applies to the rubber for their tires, the fuel for their vehicles, the tantalum for their smartphones, the Diamonds for their jewellery and the uranium for their nuclear power. If the People of the nations affected protest, they are termed rebels/terrorists and are bombed in the Name of freedom. Effectively, the "freedom" the west holds so high is at the price of slavery and suffering of entire continents elsewhere.
        Reply
        1. M
          Mathews
          Mar 29, 2016 at 7:26 am
          The Europeans profess thy have a broad humane immigration policy. The fact is that they bring in Africans and Arabs whereas genuine cases of third-world Asians are disregarded ; an imbalanced policy. The new immigrants (who were not loyal to their motherlands) remain disgruntled , envious , aimless and fall easily into terrorists" clutches.
          Reply
          1. D
            Dr. Sonali
            Mar 30, 2016 at 10:45 pm
            Do you KNOW Europe? The HATE center of the World.!! What is EU way of life? Read history.
            Reply
            1. F
              fazalfaizi
              Mar 29, 2016 at 10:42 am
              Europe and America have killed more than any other lt;br/gt;Why these analysts not writing about truth
              Reply
              1. F
                fazalfaizi
                Mar 29, 2016 at 10:39 am
                I am very sad about this happening lt;br/gt;But they may not be Muslims and it is a way to defame the islam all media r anti islam Europe and America r the biggest terrorists
                Reply
                1. G
                  Gram Massla
                  Mar 29, 2016 at 1:19 pm
                  The uncle of the Tsarnaev, those of the Boston bombing fame, nailed it when he termed these killers as "losers" in a modern society. Unable to fit in, they crave legitimacy and find it the the various texts of the Quran which would seem to justify their their violence. For the religious sanction of violence wipes away the morality of indulging in it.
                  Reply
                  1. K
                    kishor raja
                    Mar 29, 2016 at 8:00 pm
                    For any nation social fabric is important.It is also important that the minority communities intergrate in a society rather then impose their idelogy or religion on majority.
                    Reply
                    1. K
                      kulaputra kulaputra
                      Mar 30, 2016 at 12:59 am
                      Is this a co-incidence that all terror plots in the last 10 - 15 years are enacted by one community ? If people blame this community, is that wrong ? In fact, it is time for them to look inside and see how this element can be eliminated. Never seen strong statements from any one of any importance condemning these attacks - which more or less implies tacit support, right. Look inside before blaming outside
                      Reply
                      1. K
                        kulaputra kulaputra
                        Mar 30, 2016 at 1:11 am
                        Please visit a psychiatrist.
                        Reply
                        1. K
                          kulaputra kulaputra
                          Mar 30, 2016 at 1:05 am
                          State must have nothing to do with religion. Islamic terror groups have been taking advantage of European generosity with the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. They have abused it and Europe will change to prosecute terror differently. Terror is terror and there must be a strong state response including death sentences as a deterrent. Financing of terror is happening through the banking system and I am not sure why more attention is not being paid to that. After all how much cash can you bring in ? More surveillance of suspected terror is on the cards. This lamenting in this article is uncalled for. Things change and times have to change with it. We can have the same set of rules forever as long as they fundamentally are humane (the law of terrorists is not).
                          Reply
                          1. K
                            kulaputra kulaputra
                            Mar 30, 2016 at 1:10 am
                            The responsibility is with the preachers who are preaching hatred. It is no use producing a long list of events that are not fair. The world is not fair and we have to learn to live with it. The biggest genocide in history is perpetrated by Muslims in India when the Mughal invasions have happened. Many multiples of times more Hindus compared to jews by Germany were killed by invading Mughals. Does that give Hindus an automatic right to kill muslims? By your logic, no muslim should exist in India. Yet, Hindu community rarely has problems other than the constant irritation and disruption of progress. People need to give up this way of revenge thinking and enter a calm and thinking world with thoughts of love rather than hate and world will indeed look different. Isn't that what every religion essentially conveys ?
                            Reply
                            1. K
                              kum
                              Mar 30, 2016 at 8:45 pm
                              k mohamed
                              Reply
                              1. N
                                Neti Naut
                                Mar 29, 2016 at 1:52 pm
                                And they want to plunge the rest of the world in the quagmire of Islamiasma :(
                                Reply
                                1. N
                                  Neti Naut
                                  Mar 29, 2016 at 1:26 pm
                                  We are doomed if we don't realize the evil at the core of islam... As Sam Harris states "Islam is a mother lode of bad ideas" and worse, it wants to spread this bad ideology all over :( Your "tradition of hospitality and individual freedoms" is misplaced and extensively misused :(
                                  Reply
                                  1. R
                                    rightan
                                    Mar 30, 2016 at 1:40 am
                                    How is USA responsible for telling you get to so called marriage and rape four women @ the name of Sharia even your women scholars say it is OK to rape other religion women @ the name of allah to get few more virgins later on .
                                    Reply
                                    1. R
                                      Rohit Chandavarker
                                      Mar 29, 2016 at 10:27 am
                                      The siege that Europe is experiencing is the result of mainly robust nationalism, particularly in France, and urban unemployment among the educated. A careful analysis of the perpetrators indicates predominance of Francophone citizens indulging in heinous crimes. One must remember that these individuals are home grown and not 'exported' from Islamist countries though they have been indoctrinated by radical imams owing allegiance to Wahhabi and fist teachings. lt;br/gt;The educated yet unemplo youth in ghettos across Europe are breeding grounds for extremism. France has implemented a unique b of nationalism subsumed within its liberalism, for example, no public display of Muslim veil by women. This dichotomous mindset has affected French youth with Francophone origins. The easy cross border movements has enabled these intelligent youth to move seamlessly making the job of security forces that much tougher.lt;br/gt;Europeans particularly the law enforcement machinery is yet to come to terms with the aftermath of repeated attacks. Sensitisation of forces and precautions required of the public is the need of the hour. The way of life that they were accustomed to has to drastically change.lt;br/gt;Finally one fears a backlash in the form of rise of ultra nationalists in Europe which would only exacerbate the already fragile situation.
                                      Reply
                                      1. S
                                        sdas
                                        Mar 30, 2016 at 1:11 pm
                                        and immediately....!
                                        Reply
                                        1. C
                                          Curious onlooker
                                          Mar 30, 2016 at 6:48 am
                                          Preventing the influx of w-scale migration of potion into one's country for whatever humanitarian reason should not be characterised as being due to "robust nationalism". It is the absolute right and discretion of the country to accommodate such huge displaced potion. As a first step, countries of the gulf region must stop mutual attrition on ideological and religious reasons for life to return normalcy before blaming other nations for their internal strife triggering movement of people.
                                          Reply
                                          1. C
                                            Curious onlooker
                                            Mar 30, 2016 at 10:36 am
                                            This a wrong forum to advocate the pleas of economic migrants looking for jobs.
                                            Reply
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