Monday, November 23, 2015

Belgium Has Become Center of European Terror

At Der Spiegel, "Bad Brussels' Sprouts: Belgium Has Become Center of European Terror":
With 19 municipal mayors and six different police authorities, Brussels is a tangle of bureaucracy. It's also home to the suspected perpetrators behind Friday's Paris attacks. The failure of Belgian authorities has become a security problem for all of Europe.

The terror attack was the consequence of the opening of the borders on the European Continent, said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel. He added that police authorities in European Union member states exchange too little data. Michel also questioned the Schengen Agreement, which regulates the freedom of borderless travel within the EU. "We are now confronted with a new threat level in Europe," he said.

But these words didn't come this weekend, following the massacre in Paris of 132 people across the French capitol city on Friday night. They came after Islamists murdered the editors of the Paris-based French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in January. Back then, the perpetrators also had links to Belgium. It wasn't the first time either. Police arrested 13 jihadists in Belgium and two even died in a shootout at the time.

Belgium now finds itself at the center of a major terror investigation once again. The suspected masterminds of the Paris terror attack came from Brussels' Molenbeek neighborhood, and at least one further perpetrator lived here. Security officials arrested several suspects during raids in the district over the weekend.

The greater Brussels area has long been considered to be a hotbed for radical Islamists. Troubled neighborhoods like Molenbeek and Anderlecht are known as being homes to secluded communities of immigrants in which radicals can easily go underground. So has Belgium become the center of terror in Europe and a security risk for the entire Continent?

Six Police Agencies Working for 19 Mayors

Belgian lawmaker Hans Bonte says he "isn't surprised at all" that several terror suspects got arrested in Molenbeek. He attributes two factors to the development: the sectionalism of Belgium's policing and a lack of monitoring and social control of radicalized Muslims.

Brussels is a city of 1.2 million people and it has not one, but six different police agencies. These agencies answer to 19 different municipal mayors who are often political rivals. "It's unbelievable that something like this exists in Europe's capital," says Bonte.

Furthermore, the unresolved conflict between the country's two largest populations, the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons is casting a shadow over all this. The Belgian government has sought for the past 40 years to defuse the situation through the decentralization of the state. Jan Flambon, the country's Flemish interior minister, has called for the six police authorities in the greater Brussels area to be merged in response to the Paris terror attacks, but he's unlikely to succeed. "That's a Flemish fantasy," sneers Ahmed El Kahnnouss, the deputy municipal mayor of Molenbeek, who says that the French-speaking areas insist on francophone police, in accordance with the country's traditional principle of communal autonomy.

The security agencies are also considered to be poorly equipped, especially in the less-prosperous areas like Molenbeek. "My impression is that they, even more frequently than us, are using outdated technology and that they have to drive around in less-efficient police cars," says one German security official. "Besides, the budgets are always very tight there." The official said that surveillance, wire-tapping and the deployment of informants is costly -- both in terms of personnel and money...
Keep reading.

And linked at the piece, "The Belgium Question: Why Is a Small Country Producing So Many Jihadists?"