Brussels attack is another nail in the European Union’s coffin

March 23, 2016
A police helicopter hovers over Brussels' rooftops following bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016.    REUTERS/Christian Hartmann - RTSBQZ6

A police helicopter hovers over Brussels’ rooftops following bomb attacks in the Belgian city, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

With every bloody episode that detonates in the countries of the European Union, another nail is driven into its coffin. The bombings in Brussels were a virtuoso act: committed in the capital of political Europe, one taking place in a metro station near the European Commission headquarters itself.

The attacks were mounted a few days after the capture of Salah Abdeslam, the one remaining militant believed to be still at large after the Paris attacks in November — an almost operatic revenge.

The mixture of confidence and technical skill that lay behind the Brussels blasts can’t fail to drive in the message. The growing army – a word advisedly used – of men and women drawn into the field of the so-called Islamic State see themselves as combatants, see the world about them as a battlefield and see Europeans as enemies.

The London-based anti-Jihadist Quilliam Foundation said last night that it had warned of a “full-scale jihadist insurgency” for a year, and added that “no insurgency is sustainable, let alone possible, without the levels of residual support it commands for its core ideological aims, among the communities from which it draws its fighters.”

The group, founded by three young men who had been affiliated with the Jihadist organization Hizb ut Tahrir and woke up to renounce the cruel nihilism they had embraced, believes there is such residual support. All those who have committed terrorist acts in Europe have been raised — some born — in Europe. They were citizens of European states. Unable or unwilling to integrate into society, drinking great draughts of jihadist propaganda available on the Net that told them of past and present crimes visited on the Islamic world by the “crusaders” and the “Zionists,” the susceptible among them became radicalized. The boldest among them took up arms.

Thousands have gone to Syria to fight. Many have returned disillusioned; some have returned with their convictions strengthened. Belgium, with 650,000 Muslims, mostly in Brussels, counts at least 440 who have gone to Syria. In France, at least a thousand are reckoned to have joined IS, and the French intelligence services have warned that the growth in membership is out of control.

Belgium is the weak link, long known to be. Jihadism is stronger, more open there than anywhere else in the EU. The run-down suburb of Molenbeek, heavily Muslim, is an area of sanctuary for jihadists, the place to which Abdeslam returned and appears to have sheltered after the Paris slaughter, evading capture for months. In June 2012, members of Sharia4Belgium attacked the Molenbeek police station after a woman was arrested for refusing to remove her face veil. Last February, a judge was due to sentence 45 men charged with recruiting for IS: only eight came to court, the others were in Syria.

Fouad Belkacem, a fiery preacher, formed Sharia4Belgium in 2010 after seeking advice from members of the banned UK group al-Muhajiroun. The journalist Ben Taub wrote that “his followers underwent a rigorous ideological training program, with daily lectures and regular consultations, by video with a militant preacher in Lebanon… (they) came to think of the fighters as heroes defending their religion against corrupt Crusaders. In early 2012, a few of them were detained in Yemen under suspicion of trying to join al Qaeda. Later that year, the first Sharia4Belgium member travelled to Syria. Dozens followed.”

Belgium is hardly a state: the two parts of it — Flemish speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia — have their own governments, and come together, notionally, for foreign affairs, defense and macroeconomic issues. There are a complex of police forces and institutions, often with few links, which makes the central government’s response to crime and terrorism much weaker than most other European states. The main intelligence service, Tthe Surete de L’Etat, has 600 personnel to monitor nearly 1,000 “persons of interest.” (It’s reckoned that a dozen officers are needed to keep proper surveillance of one suspet on a 24-hour cycle). Last week a Belgian counter-terrorism official admitted to a Buzzfeed journalist: “We just don’t have the people… we don’t have the infrastructure to properly investigate or monitor hundreds of individuals suspected of terror links… It’s literally an impossible situation.”

After the victims of the Brussels blasts, the most immediate sufferers will be the hundreds of thousands clamoring to get into the EU and find a peaceful home and work to do. To say that nearly all are likely to make good citizens is now no use. It defies belief that among them there will not be those whom IS have planted to come into Europe in order to wage jihad, or that a few among them will not fall for IS propaganda. Ed West, deputy director of the British conservative group UK 2020, believes that radical Islamism thrives in the absence of other identities, which is why it is especially prevalent among second-generation immigrants, who are more likely to feel alienated and torn between cultures…. Religion provides the comfort of certainty, something politicians have failed to see because they have assumed that particular Western values are universal or inevitable, when they are actually quite unusual and fragile.”

The EU had open borders, though they are closing now, and the speed of closure will accelerate. It does not have open intelligence sharing. The UK’s main services, MI5 (domestic) and MI6 (foreign) are reckoned the best in Europe, (certainly by themselves), and share intelligence within the so-called “five eyes” group – which counts the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand as the other members. Others have tried to take part, but been rebuffed. There is insufficient trust that outside of the five eyes secrets will be kept and thus sources will be safe. (The Snowden leaks dented the belief that the five eyes are secure).

The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker floated the idea of an EU intelligence service. It quickly died, as he and his advisers realized that sharing of intelligence would be severely limited, and building a new service would be the work of decades.

Tuesday was a day of blood, torn limbs and official “shock”. But why shock, now? Battle has been joined. As it intensifies, the dream of an ever-closer Union becomes ever more remote. People, frightened, turn to the authorities they know: their own national leaders and security services. And they see Europe, with its generosity, liberality and military weakness not as the answer, but as the problem, even the threat.

In Britain, most wind is presently in the sails of those who clamor for a vote to leave the EU in the referendum fixed for June. In Germany, the right-wing Alternative fur Deutschland did well in regional elections earlier this month. In France, Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, the far-right anti-immigrant parties grow ever more popular. In Central Europe, the post Communist states, led by Hungary, were the first to put up the razor wire and refuse all entry.

Brussels, March 22, 2016, is another fell date to enter in a sanguinary calendar. Nothing can yet stop it.

9 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Please would you take note that there is no Reuter-Belgium and still less a Reuter-EU. Are you entitled covering the events from an abstract interest of English speaking people ready to leave EU? Then concerning the future of EU the bombing at Brussels is rather a good thing provoking a revival of our union at a moment of each of us is willing enclosing itself while on contrary we could get our safety only based on our union. During the debate over the refugees we have exposed our failures.

Posted by meleze | Report as abusive

Up to part 5 watching Tolstoy’s War and Peace from BBC Cymru, which is one product of Europe wide culture and history. Which should remind Europeans they should be more terrified of a return to centuries of nationalistic mutual destruction than medieval religious fanatics. And hard right nationalists may start gaining power going after minorities, but by nature conflict with each other eventually.

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive

Human inter-relations have been getting worst since 2001.

Anyone else notice that?

Posted by GitmoreDolluhrs | Report as abusive

Europe is under no threat. The corporations and governments of Europe are under threat, but that is not nor will ever be Europe. Just as the corporations of the US are not the US. The leaders of governments are failures because they have only loyalty to money and the corporations have no loyalty to country. US corporations are just as hateful of the American people as the ISIL terrorists, except that the corporations cause more damage and kill more people. Stop pretending that the politicians and the industrial masters represent the EU or the US. They represent their own greedy interests.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

It will have no impact on the continued Islamic invasion of Europe, which scores of prescient readers alerted you to again and again.

Media is a fifth column. End Schengen!

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

A minor interesting side-note – FN Herstal is wholly owned by the government of Wallonia. It is one of the largest small arms manufacturers in the world, and was heavily involved in illegal arms sale to Q-daffy. It is widely assumed that US Ambassador Stevens (the one killed in Benghazi) was trying to do something to stop the movement of guns from Libya to what became ISIS. It is totally possible that the Belgian government sold the guns used in the Brussels attack to arms dealers that sold them to ISIS.

Gotta love our NATO allies.

Posted by DavidHume | Report as abusive

And Reuters seems to take down every comment that is critical of Saudi Arabia or the Wahhabi religion.

I wonder why???????????

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

Saudi Arabia is the enemy of the world. Every single international muslim Terrorist group (ISIS, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, etc) are Sunni muslims receiving material support from Saudi elites. Yet the U.S. chooses to sanction Iran (who is fighting AGAINST Saudi Arabia). And the U.S. chooses to support Iran with weapons shipments and trade deals.

We are literally on the wrong side in the Middle East.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Without a unity in laws, police and armies the EU will fail in two areas. In Economic area there will be bankruptcies in trade. Without bankruptcy laws and courts, the corrupt will try to get and give loans that cannot be paid back reasonably and the powerful nations will just tell everyone what to do about each loan.

There are over a billion Muslims and Islam has long history religious terrorist groups and terrorist national leaders. Single nations particularly small ones do not have the resources effectively kill first the terrorist particularly their recruiters, propagandists (clergy) and bankrollers. They also will not have apparent strength to convince most Muslims that they must actively get rid of violent ones in their mist. Long term solutions convincing Muslims that they will likely be have their loved ones hurt in the violence.

Posted by SamuelReich | Report as abusive