And we have been at war for some time against radical Islamist terrorists, as Manuel Valls well knows. Paris went through a similar attack wave in November, more than likely conducted by the same network that launched multiple attacks on Brussels. The death toll has now hit 34, according to Reuters’ live-blog at this time, and it’s likely to keep increasing. Valls’ counterpart in Belgium warned the public to hear about deaths in the “scores”:
“We are talking about scores of dead,” said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel without giving clearer estimates after blasts brought down roof panels at the airport’s departure hall and an explosion on the Maelbeek metro platform shrouded it in smoke and littered it with debris. …
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but European leaders wasted no time in linking to other attacks by Islamist militants. “We are at war,” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
“We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war,” he added. Hours early, Belgian federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said the city had come under “terrorist attacks.”
CBS This Morning found witnesses to the attacks and their aftermath. Those close enough to the attacks heard shouting in Arabic right before the explosions:
The Associated Press has cell-phone video of the immediate aftermath of the attack in the airport:
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to look once again to Molenbeek, where Belgian counterterrorism operatives just captured the ringleader of the attacks in Paris, Salah Abdeslam. At the time, officials warned that another major operation had been in the works, but the rapidity in which it got deployed had to surprise them. If the Paris attacks first exposed Molenbeek as a threat to Europe, the Brussels attacks may take the mask off entirely about radical Islam in the heart of the continent, as the Daily Beast’s Nadette de Visser writes:
Belgium, wedged in between Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and France, has brought forth a disproportionate amount of jihadists. “The maximum number of Belgians who at one point were active in Syria or Iraq has climbed to 516,” Belgian Arabist and author Pieter van Ostaeyen said on his blog last month. Van Ostayen has been keeping a close eye on developments within Belgian minority groups vulnerable to radicalization. The number of jihadists, put into context, becomes quite alarming. “This number means that out of Belgium’s Muslim population of about 640,000 individuals, there is roughly one per 1,260 who has been involved in jihad in Syria and Iraq. At this point Belgium is, per capita, by far the European nation contributing the most to the foreign element in the Syrian war.”
Belgium is a small country with, sometimes, big problems. It even went without a cohesive government for a record 541 days in 2010 and 2011. Being a largely divided Flemish/French-speaking society to begin with, it had problems integrating its newcomers. Its second- and third- generation immigrants on average made little socio-economic progress, or had little chance to do so. Meanwhile, the security services in the city of Brussels have another significant issue: for a population of 1.3 million inhabitants, the local police force is divided up in six police corps spread over 19 boroughs. Sharing security information in that setting could only be complicated.
When one puts into a timeline the number of attacks in Western Europe over the past year and their relation to Belgium, it becomes apparent just how much of an outsized role the country is playing.
NBC’s look at Molenbeek shortly after the Paris attacks warned about Belgium’s lax response to the rise of jihadism in its suburbs:
Security forces have zeroed in on a poor Molenbeek suburb of Brussels, where several people were detained in a series of raids since the ISIS-linked attacks. Tiny Belgium — with a population of just 11 million — has the highest number per capita of militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, experts say. Many are from Molenbeek, which has a long history of links to extremism.
According to Claude Moniquet, a former Belgian intelligence agent and co-founder of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, poverty and segregation are feeding extremism in the area. …
On top of this, officials have not taken on the extremist ideology head-on, Moniquet said.
“They completely let the bad guys do absolutely what they wanted,” he said. “They have been too nice, too tolerant, too bland. They didn’t want to see radical Islamism in this part of the country because the only thing interesting for them is peace [and quiet] and to be reelected.”
Perhaps Belgium has learned a lesson the hard way. If not, other EU nations may have — and one way to measure that will be whether they ditch the no-borders policies of the past decade, and get back to securing their own nations properly. France moved in that direction immediately after the Paris attacks, and it’s time for the other nations of the EU to follow suit.