No wonder they call it ‘Belgistan’
Per capita Belgium has seen more Muslims travel to join Islamic State than any other European nation. Its security services are dysfunctional, and Belgium is now a byword for the failed multiculturalist strategies that feed the jihad in Europe
The horrific attacks earlier this week in Belgium are yet another stark reminder of the terror threat facing Europe. More than 30 civilians were murdered in Brussels and it was only by luck (the fortuitous jamming of a gun) that the death toll was not very much higher.
But these attacks are also a wake-up call to a paralysed political class that has failed to get a grip on jihadism. Every day brings fresh revelations about the criminal incompetence of Belgium’s security services. Those failures represent a major political and intelligence blunder which has only encouraged the murderous extremism of Islamic State (IS).
Take Najim Laachraoui, a Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent, who is believed to have blown himself up at Zaventem airport (though reports suggest he may still be alive). Najim had previously travelled to Syria to join IS but then returned, though without being monitored by the security services.
His DNA was later found on one of the suicide belts used in the Bataclan theatre massacre in Paris last year. Quite why such a dangerous figure was allowed to slip under the radar remains a mystery.
Another of those involved in the attack on the airport, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, had entered Turkey with the intent of joining Islamic State in Syria. Bakraoui was stopped by the Turkish authorities who duly sent him to the Netherlands in 2015 but again, the Belgian authorities failed to follow up. Apparently travelling to Syria for such clandestine militancy was not deemed a serious terrorist threat.
It is also alleged that Khalid el-Bakraoui, Ibrahim’s sibling, had helped to lease safe houses for the Paris attackers, including Salah Abdeslam, who was captured last week.
But a raid on one of these safe houses in Brussels prior to Abdeslam’s capture was botched, leading to the escape of some suspects. The Bakraoui brothers may have been among those who got away. According to Jean-Charles Brisard, who chairs the Paris based Centre for Analysis of Terrorism, “this is something that should never have happened.”
It gets worse. It transpires that shortly after the Paris attacks, Abdeslam was located in a flat in Molenbeek. But because of a 50 year old rule prohibiting police raids between 9pm and 5am unless a crime was in progress, the police had to wait until dawn to try and capture him. By the time they arrived, Abdeslam had already fled.
To compound this, when the terrorist was finally caught, several days before the Brussels bombings, the police questioned him for all of one hour over a four day period, this despite mounting evidence of an impending attack from his terror cell. The reason given was that he was too tired to be questioned for any longer. At such a desperate moment in Europe’s fight against jihad, these critical failures are as farcical as they are unforgivable.
Taken together, one can only conclude that the authorities in Belgium were guilty of a major failure of intelligence. But clearly the problems in the country run much deeper than this.
Belgium has been particularly hamstrung by its multiple police forces and security agencies, the numerous languages spoken in the country and the endemic social frictions between its Flemish and Belgian peoples. The resulting discord has created a dysfunctional state that can barely operate in any centralised capacity. Not surprisingly, there is alleged to be poor intelligence sharing with outside countries.
Amid such administrative chaos, the country has become a leading hub of jihadist radicalism. Per capita the country has seen more Muslims travel to join IS than any other European nation. Brussels has a large and growing Muslim population, among whom are a highly radicalized minority that rejects western norms and liberal values.
According to one Dutch analyst, there are parts of the city ‘on which the police have little grip’ and these are ‘segregated areas’ which ‘don’t feel they’re a part of the Belgian state’.
Molenbeek has become a particular focus of attention in recent weeks. According to Jmal Habbachich of ‘Molenbeek Mosques’, ‘At the time when the Syrian crisis started, no one paid attention to the danger of radicalism’ or to ‘the danger or upsurge of recruiters’ who were left ‘uncontrolled’ in the streets.
In other words, Molenbeek has become a no go area in which jihadists operate with impunity. Such segregation remains a stark symbol of the failure of multiculturalism.
A month before the Paris attacks, the Mayor of Molenbeek, Francoise Schepmans, received a list with the names and addresses of 80 people suspected of being jihadist militants. It included the name of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged architect of the Paris plot, and two other key terrorists.
Schepmans did nothing, claiming later: ‘It is not my job to track possible terrorists’. Such a response typifies the catalogue of indifference, incompetence and dysfunctional behaviour of the Belgian authorities in dealing with this problem.
In sum, what Belgium faces within its borders is a ‘nuclear’ cocktail of terrorism and jihad. Unless this small nation gets a grip, and quickly, the whole of Europe is at risk of fallout.
Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton
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