It has been four days since several, as we know now, Islamic State terrorists unleashed their cold blooded and precisely planned deadly attack on the cultural capital of Europe, Paris, killing 132 people and wounding 350. At first it seemed to be impossible to identify who was part of the terror squad, as most of the attackers blew themselves up before being arrested or shot.
This has radically changed. One of the cars that drove the terrorists into Paris was found in the suburb of Montreuil. Inside this car with a Belgian number plate, were several Kalashnikovs, ammunition and a parking ticket from Molenbeek – the district of Brussels in which the Belgian government seems to have completely lost power and control.
The small Brussels suburb across a canal from the posher parts of Europe’s capital, has lately become home to the continent’s most disenfranchised and dangerous citizens, of many Islamist cells, especially linked to the Islamic State. They seem to be attracted by Brussels’ central location, just hours away form Paris or London – and especially by the anonymity people can have in Molenbeek, while the police seems scared to look deeper on what’s going on there.
The residents of the suburb awoke to find their town under siege on Monday morning as police arrested one suspect they say is strongly linked to the attacks in Paris. It was the fourth police raid in Molenbeek since the attacks last Friday. More than 100 officers encircled a second man, who barricaded himself in a four-story brick apartment building. Some residents reported hearing gunfire during the chaos.
“Almost every single time there’s a link with Molenbeek,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told Flemish channel VRT Sunday. “This is a gigantic problem.”
Molenbeek has been a terrorist hot spot for several years now. The attack on the Thalys high speed train from Amsterdam to Paris this August, was carried out by Ayoub El Khazzani, also a resident of this district and part of the infamous terror group. French-Algerian Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last year, spent time in the area. The two suspected terrorists who were killed by Belgian police in a shootout in the eastern town of Verviers after a raid on a terrorist cell’s “safe house” in January were from Molenbeek.
During the shootings in Verviers the Belgian police raided a house where three suspected members of the Islamic State were plotting a major attack somewhere in Belgium leaving two Molenbeek men dead. The suspected mastermind behind the plot was also from Molenbeek: Abelhamid Abaaoud, who escaped and of whom French authorities said this Sunday they believe also masterminded the Paris attacks.
Abaaoud has been on the Wanted-list of French and Belgian authorities ever since the Verviers raid. Yet he managed to escape back to Syria directly after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in the same month, where he gave an interview to the Islamic State’s own magazine “Dabiq” and bragged about how he went through Belgian security gates and saw an image of himself on a Wanted-poster. They failed to catch him back then.
How extremely well the Islamist scene is connected in Europe can be directly seen when we realise that Abaaoud managed to send a killer squad into Europe and managed to organise an arsenal of deadly weapons for the Paris attacks.
He is known to be one of the most active ISIS slaughterers, having caused several violent atrocities in Syria and now, being the main suspect who supposedly orchestrated the vicious attacks from Syria, where he is currently fighting and also hiding from Belgian authorities, that have sentenced him, absently, to a two decade prison term.
When we take in all of this new information and follow the trail to Brussels, several question come up straight away. Two of which undoubtedly are – Why is Molenbeek a hub of terrorism and does Belgium need more surveillance of extremists? It seems extremely worrying how the Belgian government has completely lost control of this district. It has even become a “no-go-zone” for police officers.
So the actual main question that has to be asked is if Belgium is turning into a “failed state” when it comes to providing security for its citizens – which at the moment is clearly in doubt.
Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel frustrated of losing control of Molenbeek district claimed: “We’ve tried prevention. Now we’ll have to get repressive. It’s been a form of laissez faire and laxity. Now we’re paying the bill.”
Brussels has little of the close circuit television and wire tapping surveillance that other European capitals have invested in, though after recent events that may soon change radically. It has tried to stay clear of surveillance, yet simultaneously has jeopardised its people’s security by doing so and by letting Islamists act in complete anonymity – orchestrating and plotting deadly strikes on not only Belgium.
One thing has become clear: Observation of citizens that might cause a threat to the public is a huge and vital part of staying in control of Islamist groups inside of Europe. We cannot accept and tolerate whole districts becoming safe havens and free zones for terrorists.
There are currently 440 Belgians fighting in Syria for the Islamic State or other related Islamist groups. Of those who have traveled to the Middle East and returned, an estimated 30 are in Molenbeek right now according to reports by the town’s mayor, Francoise Schepmans, on Monday. This is a totally unacceptable and shocking fact.
On Tuesday it was reported by the German newspaper ‘Sueddeutsche Zeitung’ that the Belgian Football Association has cancelled the friendly fixture with Spain scheduled for that evening. The King-Baudoin-Stadium is located just north of Molenbeek – the security risk was going to be just too high. This worryingly shows that the government has no control of the security of its people, as other Nations will be holding their friendlies, with the clear message of not giving in to the terrorist, who are aiming to disrupt our every day life.
Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon pledged on Saturday: “I’m going to clean up Molenbeek. We can’t accept this any longer — we have to look at how to tackle this problem, how to eradicate it once and for all.”
Will Belgium be able to attack this problem that is so very threatening for the rest of Europe – as we painfully had to see in Paris last Friday? Possibly Belgium will have to admit it has lost control of Molenbeek. Possibly we will have to accept even more violence because of this failure.