Bel­gium con­nec­tion un­der spot­light af­ter Paris at­tacks

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BRUSSELS: Pros­e­cu­tors on Sun­day dis­closed a grow­ing Bel­gian con­nec­tion to the Paris at­tacks as Premier Charles Michel con­ceded that a Brussels neigh­bor­hood is a “gi­gan­tic prob­lem” given its past links to in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism. Bel­gian pros­e­cu­tors co­op­er­at­ing with their French coun­ter­parts said two as­sailants killed in Fri­day’s at­tacks were French­men who had lived in Brussels, that two cars tied to the at­tacks found in Paris were rented in Bel­gium, and Bel­gian po­lice have de­tained seven peo­ple. At least one of the dead as­sailants and five of the peo­ple ar­rested in raids Satur­day had spent time in the poor im­mi­grant Brussels dis­trict of Molen­beek, of­fi­cials said.

Bel­gium also is­sued an in­ter­na­tional war­rant for the ar­rest of Salah Ab­deslam, who lived in Molen­beek, while his brother Mo­hammed, who was ar­rested in this neigh­bor­hood while re­turn­ing from Paris, is still in cus­tody, of­fi­cials said. A third brother Brahim died af­ter hav­ing set off his ex­plo­sives-laden sui­cide belt near a cafe in Paris’ 11th dis­trict, in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

The trail led to the three broth­ers fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of two cars reg­is­tered in Bel­gium, one of them near the Bat­a­clan con­cert hall where 89 peo­ple were gunned down, and the other in a Paris sub­urb, Bel­gian pros­e­cu­tors said. The re­sults of the probe so far high­light how Molen­beek has for two decades lodged Is­lamist ex­trem­ists who have fought or sup­ported wars in Al­ge­ria, Afghanistan and Bos­nia as well as in Syria and Iraq, an­a­lyst Claude Moni­quet told AFP.

Ji­hadist ‘hot­bed’

“It’s not the only one in Bel­gium, it is cer­tainly not the only one in Europe, but it is a hot­bed for ji­hadism,” Moni­quet said. Bel­gium as a whole has spawned nearly 500 ji­hadists for Syria and Iraq from a pop­u­la­tion of only 11 mil­lion-the high­est fig­ure per capita in the Euro­pean Union, se­cu­rity ser­vices said. What is strik­ing is that Bel­gium and more specif­i­cally Molen­beek re­main a haven for ex­trem­ists de­spite the tough­en­ing of anti-ter­ror­ist leg­is­la­tion as well as the dis­man­tling of re­cruit­ment net­works since the 1990s.

“Europe no longer has bor­ders and it is there­fore log­i­cal that (ex­trem­ists) ben­e­fit too,” Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur said Sun­day. “But we must stop be­ing a base for those who make war in Europe,” he said. Molen­beek, where a large Mus­lim com­mu­nity lives, in­clud­ing a rad­i­cal mi­nor­ity, is more than ever in the eye of the storm.

“Among this small mi­nor­ity, there are fig­ures known at the Euro­pean and in­ter­na­tional lev­els,” ac­cord­ing to Moni­quet, CEO of the Brussels-based Euro­pean Strate­gic In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Cen­ter. They lure peo­ple on­line, he added, com­par­ing the neigh­bor­hood’s ji­hadist in­flu­ence to that of Fins­bury Park in Lon­don about 15 years ago. Part of the rea­son Molen­beek be­came such a hot­bed is be­cause lo­cal politi­cians failed for years to face up to ex­trem­ism in or­der to keep “so­cial peace” and con­tinue get­ting elected, Moni­quet said. Bel­gium’s Premier Michel ac­knowl­edged the prob­lem on Sun­day. “I have no­ticed there is al­most al­ways a link to Molen­beek, that there is a gi­gan­tic prob­lem there,” he said. “In the last few months, many ini­tia­tives have been launched in the fight against rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, but there should be a greater crack­down,” Michel added. “We are go­ing to work more in­tensely with the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is ready to pro­vide more means.”

‘Anonymity eas­ier’

In 2001, it was in Molen­beek where the as­sas­sins of Afghanistan’s anti-Tale­ban com­man­der Ah­mad Shah Mas­soud had stayed. It was also home for a while for Has­san El Haski, who was found guilty of be­ing one of the masterminds of the 2004 Madrid train bomb­ings.

Me­hdi Nem­mouche, the main sus­pect in the Jewish Mu­seum at­tack in Brussels in May last year, also stayed there. Ay­oub El Khaz­zani, the per­pe­tra­tor of the foiled at­tack in Au­gust on the Paris-bound train from Am­s­ter­dam, stayed in Molen­beek with his sis­ter be­fore board­ing the lo­co­mo­tive in Brussels.

Bel­gian au­thor­i­ties have also es­tab­lished links with the ji­hadist cell that po­lice smashed in the east­ern Bel­gian city of Verviers in Jan­uary. “They do not all come from here, and most of the time, they are just trav­el­ling through,” ac­cord­ing to Molen­beek Mayor Fran­coise Schep­mans, a mem­ber of Michel’s lib­eral party MR. “In some dis­tricts, the pop­u­la­tion is very dense, with 80 per­cent of the peo­ple of north African ori­gin. Anonymity is eas­ier for peo­ple pass­ing through with very bad in­ten­tions,” she said.

“They also land in dis­tricts which are breed­ing grounds for rad­i­cal­iza­tion,” she said, be­fore tak­ing a dig at her so­cial­ist pre­de­ces­sor: “One should have been firmer from the start.” — AFP

— AP

ROME: Peo­ple mourn dur­ing a Europe-wide minute of si­lence to honor the vic­tims of the terror at­tacks in Paris, in front of the French Em­bassy, in Rome, yes­ter­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.