The Bold Voice of J&K

Europe’s growing challenge

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Harsh V Pant

As was widely expected, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for deadly bombing of the airport and a subway station in Brussels, which left 35 people dead so far and 260 wounded. Belgian authorities have identified two of the bombers as Khalid and Brahim Bakraoui, brothers who had criminal records but were not on terror watch-lists. A third man, NajimLaachraoui, who has been identified by media as being at the airport before the explosions remains at large.
Laachraoui, who was born in Morocco and has trained in Syria, is believed to have been the bomb maker for the Paris attacks of last November — his DNA was found on the bomb abandoned by Salah Abdeslam during that attack. This was the second major terror attack on Europe in just over four months and it came just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks that killed 130 was arrested in Brussels. The arrest of Salah Abdeslamhad heightened fears of more terror attacks in the country even as officials were warning that many people who were involved in the Paris attacks people were still at large.
The carnage and the chaos have exposed Belgium as the hub of Islamist extremism in Europe, and have raised troubling questions over the competence of the country’s police and intelligence services. With extremist networks having become entrenched over a period of years, Belgium and the larger Europe is now confronted by a threat beyond what security services had ever anticipated. Belgium has seen a larger share of its Muslim population fight in Syria than any other European country, and the Molenbeek district of Brussels was the home of several of those involved in the Paris attacks that killed 130 people last November.
The failure to detect and interdict the Paris attacks in November had underscored the capacity deficit in Europe in tackling extremism and terrorism. Even as the continent’s angry Muslim youth was getting radicalised and recruited into the Islamic State for years now, European countries largely stood by and watched. Today, they seem to have far too many terrorism suspects and resulting leads to manage, much beyond their institutional capacity to handle.
Last week’s arrest of Abdelslam and failure to detect and disrupt a major terrorist attack in the very heart of Europe similar to that of Paris has led many to openly question the competence of the European security apparatus. The use of explosives in the suicide missions at the Belgian airport and the subway system suggests that a significant terrorist facilitation network remains in Europe empowering attacks. Al Qaeda always dreamed of executing this but lacked the operational support capability.
Exposed by the Paris attacks, a very divided Belgian government had been hurrying to implement an anti-terrorism plan focused on stronger law enforcement in Brussels immigrant quarters, more power for prosecutors and more resources for the country’s underfunded intelligence and security forces.
the period for taking suspects in temporary custody from 24 to 72 hours, increasing prosecutors’ right to tap phones and communications, as well as investing in intelligence and pooling information among security authorities. But those proposals are yet to become fully operational.
According a recent report, 470 Belgian Muslims have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq out of a population of about 6,60,000-in terms of rate of recruitment, this makes Belgium the top supplier of militants in Western Europe. More broadly, Western European Muslims are three times likelier to end up in IS than their American co-religionists. As an indicator of radicalisation levels, this is pretty definitive.
Compared to the US spending more than $650 billion on homeland security since 9/11, European spending on law enforcement, border security and other related agencies remains underwhelming. The efforts are also marred by an inability to reach a consensus on the best way forward. The result of this disarray is that states like the UK have taken a unilateral approach to manage their own security.
This is happening at a time when Europe is facing a multitude of challenges including the persisting eurozone crisis, slowing of economic growth, Ukraine, growing right-wing xenophobia, resurgent nationalism, and the toxic Brexit debate. With its weak external borders, non-existent internal borders and a migrant crisis that has brought close to a million and a half migrants into its borders, Europe is struggling to cope with rising internal contradictions which are exposing its fundamental vulnerabilities.

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