Published On: Tue, Mar 22nd, 2016

The Brussels attacks by Isis expose Belgium’s vulnerabilty

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According to the independent.co.uk, the tragic incidents in Brussels during the morning of Tuesday March 22nd, broke disturbing new ground. Until now, Belgium has been an incubator of jihadism rather than itself a target for indiscriminate, home-grown terrorism. The May 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, in which four people died, was more anti-Semitic than “anti-Belgian” in motivation. It was carried out by a French-born Islamist radical.

Today’s attacks are different. The chosen targets were Belgian, although also clearly international. The bombers struck the American departure area of Zaventem airport and a metro station 200 metres from the headquarters of the European Commission.

Brussels has become, for complicated reasons, one of the epicentres  – if not the epicentre – of jihadism in Europe. The 13 November attacks in Paris last year were, as we know, planned and carried out from Brussels. Their ringleader, Abdehamid Abaaoud, was born in Belgium. The runaway surviving Paris attacker captured last week, Salah Abdeslam, is a French citizen of Moroccan origin who has spent his whole life in Molenbeek, the sprawling 40 per cent Muslim commune (borough) which stretches west from the centre of Belgian’s capital. Proportionally, there are more young Belgians – including many converts – fighting with Isis and other jihadist groups in the Middle East than from any other European Union nation.

The Brussels attacks by Isis expose Belgium's vulnerabilty (Photo: Independent UK)

The Brussels attacks by Isis expose Belgium’s vulnerabilty (Photo: Independent UK)

The timing of these attacks suggests that the motive might have been revenge for Abdeslam’s capture. The truth may be more complicated than that.

There are good reasons to believe that Abdeslam has been on the run from Isis for the last four months, as well as the Belgian and French police. He pulled out of a suicide bombing in Paris on 13 November. The network which has hidden him under the nose of the Belgian’s security services appears to have been composed mostly of disaffected youths with no particular Islamist axe to grind.

Today’s attacks could have been carried out by a quite different ‘cell’, as a demonstration of continuing jihadist menace rather than specifically to “avenge” Abdeslam.

According to the independent.co.uk, all these facts point, nonetheless, to a deep and festering problem in Brussels, which goes beyond, the disturbing radicalisation of a fringe of Muslim youth in France or Britain or the Netherlands or Germany. Why Belgium? Why Brussels?

The Brussels attacks by Isis expose Belgium's vulnerabilty (Photo: Independent UK)

The Brussels attacks by Isis expose Belgium’s vulnerabilty (Photo: Independent UK)

There are factors such as unemployment, discrimination, split-identities  – which explain the alienation of young Muslims in most European countries. And in Belgium, they have been intensified by the country’s own divided identity as Dutch and French speakers have drifted further apart in the last two decades.

The division of the country in all but name has undermined  the national or federal institutions – including the police, justice system and intelligence services. Belgian politicians now think largely in terms of their “regions” or language communities, rather than problems on a national scale. The different branches of the police and security services have infamously poor communications with one another. Divided, inward-looking Belgium is no longer immune.

 

IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR U.S. CITIZENS.- The U.S. Embassy in Brussels informs U.S. citizens that anti-terrorism police activity is ongoing. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid this and any other police action that may occur.

Any U.S. citizens in Belgium are urged to:

  • Be aware of local events
  • Follow local authority instructions
  • Monitor local media further developments
  • U.S. citizens should contact their family and friends to let them know they are safe.
  • Take the appropriate steps to bolster your personal security

For further information

See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Belgium Country Specific Information.

Or contact the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, which is located at Blvd du Regent 27, B-1000, Brussels; and is open Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

 

IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR CANADIAN CITIZENS.-

If you are a Canadian citizen in need of urgent assistance, please contact your country’s nearest consular office in Belgium or go to http://travel.gc.ca/assistance/emergency-info/roca-faq or call +32 2 741 06 11.  The Canadian Consulate in Brussels is located at Avenue de Tervuren 2, 1040 Etterbeek, Belgium.

If you’re not a Canadian citizen but have an immediate family member in Belgium that you want to contact, please go to http://travel.gc.ca/assistance/emergency-info/roca-faq or call +32 2 741 06 11.  The Canadian Consulate in Brussels is located at Avenue de Tervuren 2, 1040 Etterbeek, Belgium.

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