By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
On the 22nd of March a brutal terrorist attack took place in the early morning hours at the Brussels airport Zaventem, followed an hour later by a suicide bomb attack which occurred in one of the most crowded subway passage of Brussels, at the Maelbeek subway station, which is just 300 meters away from the main EU headquarters. 35 people died and more than 300 people were wounded. The terrorist attack occurred four days after the arrest of the Belgian terrorist Salah Abdeslam, who was looked for by the French and Belgian Police since the Paris terrorist attacks in November 13th 2015.
Hours after the attacks IS claimed responsibility, announcing further “crusades” that would be carried into the capitals of the European societies. Various security experts which were interviewed by the German “Der Spiegel” magazine (No 13) and “Die Welt am Sonntag” (26th) point to the new “Modus operandi” of the IS. The experts believe that a new phase of terrorism is opening up, after the IS has suffered major defeats in Syria and Iraq. It is now assumed that the IS has trained thousands of fighters that came from the west in order to join the IS, in the training camps in Syria and Iraq, instructing them in commando tactics. During the last two years they have been building up systematically “sleeper cells” and a terrorist “infrastructure” which is now in full force.
Der Spiegel quoted the president of the German Bundeskriminalamt (BKA – Federal Criminal Office) Holger Münch who stated that the “IS now is under pressure and needs spectacular actions to draw attention and demonstrate power.” In Iraq the IS lost 40% of its territory, in Syria 20%. Over 10.000 militiamen were killed according to US information, which – according to the Pentagon- on March 24th supposedly has killed the IS Vice chairman and the Financial chief of IS, aside other leading figures. During the same period , on March 24th an offensive was launched against the IS in the Iraqi city Mosul, in which many Peshmerga fighters are participating, while the Syrian Army was able to successfully recapture the Syrian ancient city Palmyra from the hands of the IS.
What is striking is that most of the terrorists, who were involved in the Paris terrorist attacks which occurred November 13th and in the recent Brussels attack, are French and Belgian citizens with a migrant background. A major part of the planning for the terrorist attacks during the last months took place –undetected- under the eyes of the Belgian authorities in the poor migrant suburb “Molenbeek” in Brussels which has 100.000 inhabitants, most of them migrants. It is further reported that a lot of the French and Belgian terrorist, having been equipped with false Syrian passports, had come in the last months under the cover of “refugees” to Europe. The German Secret services had apparently no clue about this. (The head of the German Federal Intelligence Service BND, Gerhard Schindler, had denied this in September, that this was the case, contrary to the warnings which were coming from former leading BND colleagues who had warned about the potential terrorist risks, linked to some refugees.)
New generation and new modus operandi
We deal with a new type of terrorist generation, unlike Al Qaida and Osama Bin Laden. Most of the terrorists have had a “criminal record” and were in conflict with the law. This was the case for the two terrorist brothers El Bakraoui (Brussels) who had been put in front of the Belgian court and several times put into prison. Even more peculiar is the fact that, as was reported in the last days by the Netherlands Justice Minister, the Netherland authorities had warned the Belgian authorities about the El Bakraoui brothers and their dangerous potential: The Belgian authorities have rejected this allegation. One year ago also the Turkish police had arrested on of the El Bakrauoi brothers and informed Belgian authorities about this.
What is also striking is that 500 militants from Belgium during the last two years joined the IS in Syria and Iraq, the highest amount among the European volunteer militant groups which stands in contrast to the size of the Belgian state, that with its 30.000 sq km is as large as the German federal State Brandenburg. The Belgian State was created in 1830, from the beginning a miture of different ethnicities, a Flemish Flanders part, a Franco- phone Wallonia and East Belgium where 76000 people speak German. The country is characterized by an immense gap between rich and poor. Given its ethnicities the state, the state apparatus is split with competencies wildly distributed. In addition its nuclear reactors are not under full control; exemplary is the nuclear reactor in Thiange which had once been closed down because of problems in the past. Belgian authorities fear that these nuclear installations could become focus for radical Islamists, stealing material for the use of dirty bombs.
Bitter fight among the Political Elites
There is right now an intensive debate centered on the question why European security services have been so “blind” to the imminent threats and whether a closer cooperation among the European Police and Intelligence Services could not have prevented such atrocities as they recently occurred.
The well-known French economist Jacques Sapir (from Centre d’etudes des modes d’industrialisation) in an article that was published some days ago in the Russian “Valdai Newsletter” made the critical observation that the “culture of compromise”, which is obvious in the way Belgian politicians are managing the “Islamist” issue, reflects a deeper fact: “The Belgian political class is no longer aware of what could constitute a ‘country’.” Sapir qualified the Belgian government policy as a “curious mix between ‘overestimating’ the threat when it closed down Brussels for several days in November after the terrorist attacks in Paris and ‘underestimating’ it.” He stated that the “logic of the Belgian political class is a compromise with radical Islamists… the Belgian elite prefers to make compromises…It prefers to get lost in the delights of the Europe Union rather than confront difficult questions about what constitute a real Belgian nation.”
Drawing a comparison between France and Belgium, Sapir underlined: “The fact that France is still a nation even if this nation is weakened, largely explains the difference in reactions to bomb attacks.” He emphasized that these terrorist attacks are in no way related to the refugee issue (…) “It is clear that terrorist cells were and are largely the product of a radicalization that is unique to French and Belgian societies. In a sense this radicalization tells us more about France and Belgium than on Islam”. And he continues writing: “What is essential is the loss of bearings, particularly of benchmarks of what constitutes a nation. From this point of view, the radicalization teaches us more about the process of disintegration of states engendered by the mechanisms of the European Union. The fact that some of the terrorists were able to come back to Europe from the Middle East and Syria taking advantage of the disorder created by refugee movements, does not mean a causal link between the refugee issue and the issue of terrorism. Nevertheless, the question of acceptance of refugees is now determined by the reaction of various countries regarding these terrorist attacks. It is obvious that these attacks provoke a backlash on the refugee issue.”
Not sufficient police cooperation on a European level
What makes it so difficult to efficiently combat terrorism on a European scale is the fact that there is no efficient exchange of data among the European Secret services and Police. At the EU Interior Minister’s meeting (March 24th) the European Ministers decided to improve that situation. According to the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière “many national authorities don’t want to share with others their information. We must change that mentality since we have too many separate data, which are not being interconnected.” As Der Spiegel reported in its latest edition Europe now has a “European Counter Terrorism center” and the secret services have formed a “Counter terrorism Group.” But this is all on a voluntary basis, there is no political control.
The German Peter Neumann, Professor for security studies at the King’s College (London), in his new Book “The new Dschihadists” warns about a new terrorism wave in Europe.
In a “Der Spiegel” (Nr 13) interview he stated that for a long time it was believed that the IS would only inspire terrorist ‘lone wolves’. Therefore many security authorities were surprised when they were confronted with the aggressive and complex IS organization. Neumann underlined that a high level security expert told him that in Europe no secret service believed that this all would happen, except the British. Of course the American noticed it as well. But they always, as Neumann put it, warned about so many scenarios that they were in part no more taken seriously. He added that the theory of ‘lone wolves’ who radicalize in Internet never was true. “In January 2015 the IS put together teams with the order to act in Europe. People simply didn’t take note of that in Europe.”
Neumann estimates that 5000 to 6000 Europeans joined the IS in Syria or Iraq. Approximately 15% died, between 25 and 30% have returned in the meantime. Not everyone who is returning is ready to use violence. But opposite to Al Qaida the number in Europe is a four digit number. And there are supporter networks which have never been in Syria like Salah Abdeslam- who was recently captured by the Belgian police. Neumann confirmed that there is no efficient exchange of data or a data bank in which all names of the suspected are listed.
Wiesbaden, April 1 2016