Brussels attack

Blowback in Europe

Print edition : April 15, 2016

In this framegrab taken from VTM, something appears to drop from inside the trouser leg of Salah Abdesalam as he is arrested and bundled into a police vehicle in the Molenbeek neighbourhood of Brussels on March 18. Photo: AP

Since the beginning of the so-called “war on terror” started by the West 15 years ago, terror attacks in Europe, and around the world, have escalated dramatically.

THE coordinated terror attacks in Brussels are yet another sign that jehadists holding European citizenship can strike almost at will on the continent. The headquarters of the European Union (E.U.) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) are located in Brussels. In the attacks on the Zaventem international airport terminal and the Maelbeek metro station located in the city centre on March 22, more than 31 people were killed and 300 wounded. The dead and the wounded hail from more than 40 countries. Among those missing after the attack is an Indian citizen, Raghavendran Ganeshan, an employee of Infosys based in the Belgian capital. Two Indian employees of Jet Airways were injured in the blast at the airport.

Since the beginning of the so-called “war on terror” started by the West 15 years ago, terror attacks in Europe and around the world have escalated dramatically. In Europe, almost all the high-profile attacks in the last four years were carried out by European nationals returning from the battlefield in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the fighters, including those involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks, had criminal records and should have been under routine police surveillance. Instead, they were allowed to make multiple trips to rebel-held areas in Syria and Iraq.

In the case of Brussels, it has come to light that Turkish and Israeli intelligence agencies had given the Belgian authorities precise advance information about the individuals who were involved in the attacks and the probable targets. “The Belgian security services, as well as other Western intelligence agencies… knew with a high degree of certainty that attacks were planned in the very near future for the airport and apparently for the subway as well,” the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported after the attacks happened.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, who blew himself up at the airport, was deported twice from Turkey to the Netherlands after he was caught trying to sneak into Syria. His brother, Khalid, was responsible for the attack on the Maelbeek metro station. In fact, there was an international arrest warrant against Khalid as he was alleged to be intimately involved in the terror attacks in Paris in November last year. Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens admitted to security lapses and offered their resignations. Prime Minister Charles Michel rejected the offer.

Erdogan also said the Turkish authorities had tipped off the Belgians on another individual involved in the Brussels attacks. He said one of the perpetrators of the attack was detained in June 2015 and deported to Belgium. “We informed the embassy in Brussels of the deportation process of the attacker,” Erdogan said. “However, the Belgians released the attacker despite his deportation.” Turkish officials have now gone a step further and accused European agencies of trying to export their Islamist extremist problem to Syria. Turkish officials told The Guardian that European citizens who were on the Interpol “wanted” list used to land in Turkey with suitcases full of weapons.

It is only recently that the Turkish government clamped down on fighters from Western countries going to Syria and Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin had accused Ankara of being “accomplices of terrorists” after a Russian plane was shot down last year by the Turkish air force.

In the recent attacks on the European continent and other parts of the world, siblings seem to be acting in tandem. In the Boston marathon bombing two years ago, the Tsarnaev brothers influenced by the Daesh (as the Islamic State is also called) ideology carried out the attacks.

Belgium has been the source of the most number of fighters for jehadist groups such as the Daesh and the Jubhat al Nusra. Western intelligence agencies had initially connived at the recruitment of fighters for the forces they were supporting in Syria. Belgium and France with a large pool of unemployed young Muslim men were ideal recruiting grounds. Citizens of these countries did not even need a passport to fly into Turkey, the national ID card sufficed.

The movement into Syria was facilitated by intelligence operatives of various Western countries, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies. There are an estimated 10,000 fighters from France and Belgium in the Syrian battlefield. There are reports that many of those involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks had, in fact, gone to Syria even before the Daesh announced the creation of an “Islamic Caliphate”.

One of the Brussels bombers, Najum Laachraoui, had gone to Syria in 2013, before the Daesh had captured Raqqa. It is only after the Daesh gained territory and started masquerading as a state that the West started militarily targeting the group, albeit selectively.

More than a thousand fighters, among them the bombers in Paris and Brussels, have come back to carry on the fight against their own governments.

Groups like the Daesh and the al Nusra are extremely angry with Western governments for not ordering direct military action against the government in Damascus in the initial years of the war and, instead, turning their weapons against them.

As the Paris and Brussels attacks show, the Daesh now has a large clandestine support base.

The draconian emergency laws that have been imposed in France and Belgium since the Paris attacks have not been able to deter the jehadi groups intent on causing mayhem. French and Belgian investigators have concluded that the Paris attacks were planned in Brussels.

Three or four persons involved in the Brussels attacks also apparently played a role in the Paris attacks.

The Brussels attacks were no doubt precipitated by the capture of Salah Abdeslam by the Belgian counter-terrorism force in the third week of March. He was wanted for his pivotal role in the attacks in Paris.

Jehadi network

The sophisticated underground jehadi network in western Europe, coupled with the sheer incompetence of the counter-terrorism outfits in France and Belgium, allowed Abdeslam to lie low and probably plan more terror attacks.

Abdeslam first came on the police radar when the Turkish authorities arrested him in January 2015 when he was attempting to cross into Syria. The Turkish authorities notified their counterparts in Belgium.

Like Abdeslam, many of those involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks were second-generation Belgian citizens. Nadim Laachraoui is said to be the man who assembled suicide vests for the Paris attacks.

In France and Belgium, poor immigrants and their descendants, mainly from former Francophone colonies such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, have become marginalised citizens. Many of the youth, like Abdeslam, started their careers as petty criminals who became radicalised either in prison or through the social media.

Despite his past record, Abdeslam was allowed to travel freely all over Europe, where he met with other jehadis, some of whom had come along with the wave of refugees that flooded Greece and Central Europe last year. Abdeslam’s capture and interrogation could have set alarm bells ringing among his close circle of conspirators.

Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, in a confessional note found near one of the bombed sites in Brussels, said he “was acting in a hurry” as he “did not know what to do” pursued as he was by a host of security agencies after the capture of Abdeslam.

European states are using their botched response to the terrorist threat as an excuse to further tighten their draconian surveillance laws. France has been under emergency rule since the Paris attacks.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said after the Brussels carnage that privacy and data protection rights should be put on the back burner.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called for the setting up of “a unitary European security structure” that would coordinate with the police and security agencies of all the E.U. countries.

Victims of terror attacks around the world, meanwhile, have not got the kind of sympathy and understanding those in Brussels and Paris have elicited from the Western media and governments. In March itself, from Nigeria to Iraq, hundreds of innocents fell victim to terror attacks.

In Yemen, hospitals and markets had been bombed by the Saudi Arabian air force. In the latest attacks in the third week of March, more than 120 people, many of them children, were killed when a Saudi plane bombed a market in the north of the country. The planes and weapons for the Saudis are supplied by the U.S.

The Boko Haram in Nigeria is continuing with its killing spree. In the second week of March, a suicide bomber struck at a mosque in Maiduguri in the northeast of the country killing 22 people. In Nigeria, women are being increasingly used as suicide bombers. Turkey was hit by two suicide bombings in March. And in Iraq, hundreds were killed in terror attacks in March alone. In the latest attack on March 25, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a crowded football match. Thirty-one people were killed and more than 80 wounded. But for Western governments and the media, Asian and African lives apparently do not matter all that much.