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The Brussels Bombings - Striking a Balance Between Law Enforcement and Risk Management

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1
The Brussels bombings
Balancing between law enforcement and risk management
Paul Ponsaers
1
& Elke Devroe
2
1. Abstract
2. The Brussels’ bombings
2.1. The former events
2.2. The Brussels bombings
2.3. The damage of the bombings
2.4. The political situation in federal Belgium
2.5. The assessment of terrorist threats
3. The response to the events
3.1. The communication
3.2. The governmental measures
3.2.1. The response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks
3.2.2. The response to the Bataclan attacks
3.3. The response by civil society
4. Lessons learned
4.1. Too much law enforcement
4.2. The challenge for the future
Bibliography
1. Abstract
Already before the Brussels bombings of March 22, 2016 the Belgian federal government
developed an ambitious counterterrorist programme in relation to the events in Paris.
Implementation of this programme was hindered by the federal structure of the country and
the complex structure of the Brussels Capital Region. During a first period federal
government insisted on the broadening of the scope of the criminal law and the reactive
enforcement of that law by supporting the prosecution and sanctioning of offences against this
law. In a second phase the government extended its frame of reaction towards a more
proactive frame of reference in terms of risk management, oriented around those known or
suspected by the authorities of embarking upon terrorist careers. This was to the detriment of
a more broad social policy and preventative approach, favoured by the the government of the
Brussels region, but lacking financial means for that (Edwards, Devroe & Ponsaers, 2017).
This proactive choice was subject of severe critique by human rights organisations.
Nonetheless, international criticisms that focused on Belgium’s allegedly weak security
policies and complex institutional structure, depicting the country as a ‘failed state’, are
neglecting the important efforts and progress made in a short period. But there are new
problems to be encountered. The most important challenge for the future are the “returnees”,
the earlier foreign fighters in the Syria and Iraq region, who want to return to the country.
Again, this problem will necessitate a holistic approach in which as well law enforcement, as
risk management and also a solid social policy are combined.
1
Prof. dr. Emeritus, Department of Criminal Law, Criminology and Social Law, Faculty of Law, Ghent
University, Belgium.
2
Associate Professor, Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA), Faculty of Governance and Global
Affairs, University Leiden, The Netherlands.
2
2. The Brussels’ bombings
The terrorist bombings of March 22, 2016 in Brussels were no isolated events. They construct
a chain of events in a terrorist campaign by a French-Belgian terrorist Jihadi network that
developed on the axis Paris-Brussels. That explains why the reaction the Belgian government
against this campaign started earlier than in March 2016, largely coordinated with the French
authorities.
2.1. The former events
For a long period Belgium escaped from Jihadi terrorism on its territory. There occurred
forms of terrorism, but most of these happened during the 80-ies, and were committed by a
extreme left-wing group (CCC, Combating Communist Cells) (Vander Velpen, 1986), in the
slipstream of the Rote Armee Fraktion in Germany and Action Directe in France; or by a
criminal gang that was suspected to have connections with extreme right-wing groups (Gang
of Nivelles) (Ponsaers & Dupont, 1988). Apart from these cases, there were isolated anti-
(Semitic) assaults. Notwithstanding that, Brussels had a long history of active Jihadi recruiters
(Ponsaers & Devroe, 2016a).
The Jihadi campaign in Belgium started with the assault on the Jewish museum in Brussels on
May 24, 2014. Four people were killed at that occasion. Later on, the investigation on this
event will make clear that the French-Algerian gunman, Mehdi Nemmouche, was suspected
to be a “returnee” from the Syrian civil war. He recorded a video bearing the flag of Islamic
State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In fact, he was the first European volunteer in the Syrian war
who committed attacks upon returning to Europe (Bartunek, 2014).
Only a week after the massacre at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo
in Paris on January 7, 2015, the Belgian police carried out a anti-terrorist raid on a Jihadist
cell in Verviers on January 15, 2015. Two suspects died in the raid. Other operations were
carried out in Brussels. The Belgian prosecutor's office stated that the raids were an operation
against a Jihadist terrorist cell, reportedly believed to have links to ISIS, on the verge of
committing a terrorist attack. The cell was led by Abdelhamid Abaaoud
3
, a Belgian-Moroccan
Islamic terrorist from Molenbeek (Brussels), who also spend time in Syria.
He was the ringleader of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris that occurred on
November 13, 2015
4
. Seven perpetrators died at the scenes of these attacks. The other two
were killed five days later during a police raid in Saint-Denis. One of them was Abdelhamid
Abaaoud. One terrorist escaped and fled to Brussels, more precisely Salah Abdeslam, a
Belgium-born French national of Moroccan descent and a childhood friend of Abdelhamid
Abaaoud. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks (de la Hamaide, 2015).
Immediately on November 13 Belgium tightened security along its border with France and
increased security checks for people arriving from France. The Belgian government imposed
a security lockdown on Brussels, including the closure of shops, schools, public
transportation, due to information about potential terrorist attacks in the wake of the series of
coordinated attacks in Paris (Tutt & Pramuk, 2015). Being four months on the run, Salah
3
Analysis of a telephone call made by Abdelhamid Abaaoud established that he was in contact with Mehdi
Nemmouche during January 2014 (Seelow, 2015).
4
For a more detailed account on these events, please consult the contribution on France in this volume.
3
Abdeslam was apprehended during a police raid in Molenbeek, on March 19, 2016 (Rubin,
2016a).
Figure 1 : Time-line of related events 2014-2016
2.2. The Brussels bombings
Only a few days later, in the morning of March 22, 2016, two coordinated suicide attacks
occurred in Brussels. The first attack was at the national airport (Zaventem), where two nail
bombs exploded in the departure hall, the first at 07h58 a.m.; the second nine seconds later. A
third non-exploded bomb was found later on by the police and disarmed. The second attack
occurred an hour later at Maalbeek metro station, located near the European Commission
headquarters in the centre of Brussels (Lasoen, 2017).
In total 35 persons were killed (32 civilians and 3 suicide bombers, more precisely Najim
Laachraoui (Rubin, 2016b), Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Khalid El Bakraoui (Holehouse, 2016)
during the two assaults, while over 300 civilians were injured, 62 critically. The bombings
were the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium's history. ISIS claimed responsibility for the
Brussels attacks, referring to the fact that Belgium was targeted as “a country participating in
the international coalition against the Islamic State (Hjelmgaard, Reuter & Bacon, 2016).
The Brussels bombings were committed by two commando’s.
(1) The first commando, which acted on the national airport, was executed by :
- Najim Laachraoui (born in 1991 in Morocco, living in Schaarbeek [Brussels], Moroccan and
Belgian nationality). In February 2013, Laachraoui left Belgium for Syria, to fight for IS. On
September 9, 2015, he returned to Belgium. He was collected by car by Salah Abdeslam in
Budapest. Laachraoui is considered to have produced the bombing belts, used as well in Paris
as in Brussels
5
. He died during the explosion of his suicide bomb at Brussels airport on March
22, 2016.
- Ibrahim El Bakraoui (born in 1986, in Laeken [Brussels], Belgian nationality, Moroccan
origin). He was engaged in several criminal activities and a childhood friend of Salah
Abdeslam. In June 2015, he was arrested in Turkey, near the Syrian border. He was
considered by the Turkish authorities to be a “suspect terrorist”. Ibrahim El Bakraoui was
deported to the Netherlands on July 14, 2015 by Turkey. The Dutch police released him after
5
During the investigation the police found traces of TAPT in different safe-houses (Triacetone Triperoxide
TATP, is a homemade explosive, commonly used by the Palestinians in their terror campaign against Israel).
4
arrival, failing to link him to terrorist activities
6
. He also died during the explosion of his
suicide bomb at Brussels airport on March 22, 2016.
- Mohamed Abrini (born in 1984, Moroccan Belgian, living in Molenbeek [Brussels]) is also
a boyhood friend of Salah Abdeslam. He was known for his involvement in common crime.
Abrini left for Syria in June 2015 for a short period. He moved confidently across borders,
returning from Syria via Britain to pick up cash for financing the upcoming terrorist plans
(Barnes et al., 2016). He drove Salah Abdeslam from Brussels to Paris before the attacks of
November 13, 2015. The car they drove was used during the Paris’ attacks. Abrini failed to
detonate his bomb during the Brussels’ airport assault. He survived and was arrested on 8
April 2016.
(2) The second commando, which acted on the Maalbeek metro station, was executed by :
- Khalid El Bakraoui, the younger brother of Ibrahim El Bakraoui (born in 1989). He was
involved in October 2009 in several criminal affairs. He rented a flat in Charleroi (Belgium),
which was used by the group of terrorists that committed the November 13, 2015, assaults in
Paris. He was also suspected to have rented a flat that was used by Salah Abdeslam as safe-
house after his run from Paris to Brussels. The brothers El Bakraoui were considered to have
delivered weapons and ammunition to the Paris’ and Brussels’ attackers. Khalid El Bakraoui
died during the explosion of his bombing belt at Maalbeek metro station on March 22, 2016.
- Osama Krayem (born in 1992, Syrian parents, lived in Malmo-Sweden) radicalised in his
early twenties. He left Sweden in 2014 to join ISIS in Syria. He later returned to Europe using
a false passport. In October 2015, he met Salah Abdeslam in Ulm (Germany), at a refugee-
centre. The DNA of Krayem was found in the apartments used by the Paris’ terrorists of
November 2015. During the Brussels’ bombing of the Maalbeek metro station, Krayem had a
bombing belt, but failed to detonate it (Alexander, 2016). He was arrested on 8 April 2016.
2.3. The damage of the bombings
The Brussels’ bombings resulted in compensations to the victims for a global amount of 322
million euro, according to the Belgian government. During several hearings of victims in
January 2017, organised by the federal Parliamentary Enquiry Commission on the Brussels’
attacks, victims declared that they felt abandoned by the Belgian authorities. Care and
financial support came too late, mostly hindered by multiple bureaucratic obstacles and a lack
of care (Vancutsem, 2016).
2,3 billion euro had to be invested in reconstruction and repairs of buildings. These costs
accounted for only a part of the total cost, while additional loss was a consequence of the
closures of services such as transport and businesses, which led to temporary unemployment.
The global economic damage as a consequence of the attacks was estimated to 4,47 billion
euro (Andersen, 2016).
2.4. The political situation in federal Belgium
6
Concerning these events, more precisely the role and the responsibility of the Belgian liaison officer in Ankara,
Belgian Parliament started a Parliamentary Enquiry Commission. This commission did not yet reached a
conclusion.
5
Belgium is a federal country with three regions, Flanders (Dutch speaking), Wallonia (French
speaking) and the Brussels Capital region (bilingual). Among other things, the federal
government is responsible for Security and Home Affairs and for Justice. The actual federal
government is a coalition of Liberals, Christian Democrats and the Flemish Nationalists, the
biggest party. The actual federal coalition reflects a rupture with the past. Before, the federal
government was dominated during 25 years by the presence of the (French) Social
Democrats. The minister of Security and Home Affairs is Jan Jambon. The minister of Justice
is Koen Geens (Devroe & Ponsaers, 2017).
Apart from the federal level has each region its own government. Flanders has a government
with the same coalition as the federal government. In other words, there exists a symmetry
between the federal and Flemish government. In the French speaking part is the situation
different. Here the Social Democrats remain in a dominant political position. In other words,
here we have asymmetry between the federal and regional level. The most complicated
political situation we observe in the Brussels region (Ponsaers & Devroe, 2016b). The
regional government is led by a Social Democrat, who is responsible for urban policy and
security. De coalition contains essentially Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, Liberals
and a French speaking language party. Again, we observe asymmetry with the federal
government.
Moreover, the Brussels region is composed of 19 municipalities, each with their own mayor.
These mayors have all different political affiliations. There is a sharp rivalry between French
speaking Liberals and Social Democrats.
In sum, the federal structure of the country and the multitude of decision-making layers leads
easily to political paralysis, as well between linguistic parties, as between ideological
fractions (Ponsaers & Devroe, 2016c). Especially in Brussels, these tensions lead to harsh
debate (Ponsaers, 2016a). At the federal level and in Flanders, counterterrorism is dominated
by severe law enforcement and risk management strategies, while in Wallonia and Brussels
the tendency is to focus on social policy and prevention (Renard, 2016a).
2.5. The assessment of terrorist threats
In response to the 9/11 massacre, a new initiative brought in 2006 all the relevant
counterterrorist actors together in the Coordination Unit for Threat Assessment (CUTA)
(Vercauteren, 2013). Today this is the Belgian public instance that coordinates the police and
intelligence services and that assesses to what extent Belgium is subject of terrorist and
extremist threats. CUTA was installed by the law of July 10, 2006. CUTA receives
information from : the federal and local police, the Belgian civil and military secret services,
the customs, the immigration service, the administration of mobility and transport, and the
administration of foreign affairs.
The law defines 4 levels of threat (Dallison, 2016) :
- not under threat : level 1 or Low;
- little probable : level 2 or Medium;
- possible and probable : level 3 or Serious;
- serious and imminent : level 4 or Very Serious.
In the recent past, the threat level was changed from 3 up to 4 for the Brussels region, after the
assault on the Jewish museum in Brussels on May 24, 2014. In March 2015 CUTA lowered
6
the threat level from 3 to 2 after the counter terror action in Verviers. After the Paris attacks
of November 2015, the threat level was increased from 2 to 3. Salah Abdeslam was not
captured and the minister of Home Affairs announced that level 3 had to be maintained until
his arrest. During the period from 21 to 26 November 2015 the threat level was increased to 4
for the Brussels region. After this period, until March 22, 2016 the level was again lowered in
the Brussels region up to 3. Shortly after the Brussels attacks, the threat level was increased
for the whole country to level 4, during the period 22-24 March 2016. From March 25, 2016
until now (March 2017), the level was lowered to 3 for the whole country.
3. The response to the events
3.1. The communication
Immediately after the events the mobile phone network was strongly overburdened because of
the enormous amount of calls. Victims called for help and people tried to reach family-
members to warn or reassure. Flights were cancelled and the national airport closed. The
traffic inside Brussels was completely jammed, public transport, subways and trains were
stopped. The population in the city was asked to stay inside their houses en public buildings
(e.g. schools and musea) were closed. Public events were cancelled.
The government announced a period of three days of national grief. The prime minister
stressed during a press conference that the first priority was the medical treatment and the
evacuation of the victims. He launched an appeal for national unity and solidarity. Political
leaders asked the population to stay calm. In response to that, in Brussels crowds were
gathering to support the victims. The federal crisis centre of the government (Levy, 2007)
took its coordinating role instantly and asked to use social media via internet or text
messaging on the cell phones. People who had questions could always contact the crisis centre
on a special number, also during the night (G.N. & J.N.S., 2016). The federal prosecution
office communicated actively about the consequences and the investigation. An active
collaboration with the French police services developed. In the aftermath of the events, the
media were focusing on the progress made in the criminal investigation, giving long biopics
of the deceased terrorists and the other suspects. The King launched an appeal for
determination, tranquillity and dignity.
The same March 22, 2016 ISIS claimed responsibility for the Brussels’ bombings, reported
the Amaq website, affiliated with ISIS. The claim contains a clear reference to the
participation of Belgium in the international coalition against the Islamic State. Three days
after the bombings, on March 25, 2016 a French speaking propaganda video was featured via
the dark net. Terrorists originating from Verviers (Belgium) were talking to the audience. A
day later two video’s were released in which Belgian ISIS fighters were joking about the
bombings and asked the Belgian population to require the Belgian government to withdrawal
from the Middle East. Belgian media covered the news concerning the claims in a concise
way (Knecht, 2016).
After the bombings, Belgium found itself subjected to a barrage of international criticisms
that focused on its allegedly weak security policies and complex institutional structure.
Belgium-bashers labelled the country a ‘failed state’ (King, 2015) and a ‘jihadi rear base’
(Papirblat, 2015), while its intelligence services were supposedly ‘shitty tradecraft’ (Weiss,
Youssef & De Visser, 2016). These accusations were largely exaggerated (Renard, 2016b).
7
They were also rebuffed by more nuanced studies, and by many testimonies to the
parliamentary enquiry commission set up after the Brussels attacks (Renard, 2016a).
3.2. The governmental measures
Everyone agrees today that more needs to be done, and more efficiently, to cope with the
challenges of terrorism and radicalisation. Nevertheless, a lot has been accomplished since the
Brussels attacks. Of the 30 measures announced by the government in 2015, 26 have been
either implemented, or implementation is ongoing (Seron & André, 2016). The legal
counterterrorism framework has been broadened, while the financial and human resources
available to security services have been bolstered. Beyond law enforcement measures, local
risk management has been strengthened.
3.2.1. The response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks
As a consequence of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks and the joint police operation,
involving Belgian and French forces, and the Verviers raid, the federal government decided
upon a package of 12 counterterrorism measures, released in January 2015 (Blyth, 2015).
A number of these measures concern the enforcement of criminal law. It is worth noting that
three new terrorism-related offences had already been added to the criminal code in 2013,
concerning recruitment, provision and acquisition of terrorist training and public incitement to
commit terrorist offences. The new legal measures concerned :
- Insertion in the criminal law of a new terrorist offence, relating to travelling abroad for
terrorist purposes
7
;
- The same law also broadened the scope of particular investigative methods - wiretapping,
for example - to include all terrorism offences classified as criminal under Belgian law;
- It has also enlarged the range of cases in which Belgian nationality can be revoked for
individuals having double nationality. This legal disposition found a kind of corollary in
the law
8
which modified the consular code to allow the refusal, withdrawal or invalidation
of passports of individuals perceived as a threat to national security;
- Temporary withdrawal of the identity card, refusal to issue and withdrawal of passports.
This law permits to refuse the delivery of a identity card to a Belgian and to withdraw or
to declare the card invalid
9
;
Other measures are more directed towards the organisation of counterterrorism :
- The establishment of a National Security Council
10
, which determines the general policy
concerning intelligence and security, coordinates the policy, and sets the priorities of
intelligence and security services. The council is chaired by the federal prime minister;
- This council is also competent for the coordination of the actions against the financing of
terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The legally established
7
Law of July 20, 2015 with the aim to reinforce the struggle against terrorism.
8
Law on the Belgian nationality. Art. 23/2, §3, introduced by law of July 20, 2015.
9
Identity card : law of August 10, 2015; Passports : Consular Code art. 65.
10
Royal Decree, January 28, 2015.
8
mechanisms to identify persons involved in the financing of terrorism were activated and
assets were frozen
11
;
- A new circular note was launched
12
concerning the follow-up of Foreign Fighters who
are living in Belgium, especially by the municipal administration. Mayors were requested
to establish Local Cells for Integral Security (LCIS)
13
;
- The exchanges of information between the authorities and the administrative and judicial
services were optimised. A so-called ‘Dynamic (permanently actualised) Foreign Fighters
Database’ became operational, which should permit to follow these persons and their
actions
14
;
- A National Taskforce prepared a new confidential plan against radicalisation, in which is
determined which administrative and judicial measures can be taken at preventive,
proactive and reactive level
15
;
- The fight against radicalism in prisons by the minister of Justice
16
;
- The calling in of the Belgian army for specific monitoring missions
17
;
- The strengthening of the capacity of the State Security Service and transfer of the VIP
protection to the federal police.
3.2.2. The response to the Bataclan attacks
A second set of 18 measures was announced later on, in the days following the coordinated
terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015. The measures included :
- The increase of the security budget. €400 million for security and the fight against
terrorism became available;
- The reinforcement of police controls at the borders;
- The deployment of 520 soldiers to reinforce security. This decision was systematically
extended by the council of ministers;
- The introduction of new technologies for the intelligence services (voice recognition,
expansion of wiretapping including arms trafficking)
18
;
- The government wants to extend the duration of administrative detention
19
, from 24 hours
to 72 hours in terrorism related cases
20
;
11
Royal Decree of December 28, 2006 concerning the specific limiting measures against certain persons in the
struggle against the financing of terrorism.
12
Circular note of August 21, 2015.
13
The LCIS’s gather regularly all key local stakeholders, such as the mayor, the head of local police, prevention
officers and social workers. Regional platforms and ‘mobile teams’ were also created to facilitate the exchange
of good practices between municipalities, while multidisciplinary support centres were launched to help citizens
confronted with radicalisation.
14
Second Law on Terrorism of April 27, 2016. Royal Decree of July 21, 2016.
15
Established May 29, 2015.
16
Parliamentary question of August 10, 2015 to the prime minister.
17
The use of the military for security duties is practiced since January 2015. This was demonstrated in the
“Brussels lockdown” November 21-25, 2015 and increased after the Brussels terrorist bombings in March 2016.
18
These measures imply the revision of the criminal law. The council of ministers prepared a proposal, that was
discussed for a first time within Parliament. A second lecture was asked recently by the Green Party because of
the absence of sufficient control mechanisms.
19
The so-called ‘garde à vue’ in the framework of maintenance of public order by the police, and not for
offenders who are indicted for specific crimes by the magistrate
20
This measure implies the revision of the Constitution and consequently a 2/3th majority in Parliament. This
proposal leads to discussion between the governmental parties and the opposition, who fears that this extension
will also be applied to other forms of crime. For a critique on this proposal see Human Right Watch (2016).
9
- House searches 24 hours a day for terrorist offences. Before it was forbidden to perform
searches between 21:00 (9pm) and 05:00 (5am)
21
;
- The measure concerning Foreign Fighters targets the returnees. In the case of
returnees, the Belgian government has declared it wants to systematically deprive them
of their liberty upon their return to Belgium
22
;
- For those who are more generally registered as threats to national security and who have
not necessarily been implicated in Foreign Fighting, the government wants to place them
under electronic surveillance
23
;
- Anticipating on the establishment at the European level of a Passenger Name Record
(PNR), a decision was made to create already such a record at Belgian national level
24
;
- Screening of all hate preachers in order to place them under house arrest, deprive them of
their liberty or to expel them;
- Dismantling of unrecognized places of worship which propagate Jihadism;
- End of anonymity for pre-paid cards;
- The execution of the Plan Molenbeek (renamed later Plan Canal), conceived by the
Belgian Ministry of Home Affairs, which focuses on eight municipalities in Brussels and
surrounding areas, intending to monitor those localities perceived as vulnerable to
radicalisation;
- The reinforcement of screening before access to sensitive jobs’;
- Extension of the network of cameras recognizing license plates;
- Closing down websites preaching hate;
- Evaluation in order to adapt legislations linked to the state of emergency’ (the possibility
for temporary and exceptional measures to ensure public safety). The ‘state of emergency’
(as in France or the Netherlands) cannot be declared actually in Belgium because a clear
legal framework is absent
25
;
- Participation in the international fight against ISIS.
3.3. The response by civil society
A number of organisations have reacted to the governmental measures taken. One of them
was Amnesty International Flanders (2015), which asks MP’s to behave reluctant in their
initiatives, warning that measures should not threat or limit civil rights. AI advises the
government to assess in first instance the existing instruments against terrorism before
implementing new ones. New offenses should be tested by means of the principles of legality
and proportionality. Specific attention is paid to the risk to penalise intentions without the
actual criminal behaviour. Furthermore, AI warns against discriminatory or arbitrary
measures and insists on a severe policy against illegal trade of weapons. In a subsequent
report, AI reacts to the international political situation in Europe (Amnesty International,
2017).
21
Law of April 27, 2016 concerning additional measures against terrorism (art. 3).
22
The particular question of the relationship between prison and radicalisation is also on the radar in Belgium.
Authorities have opened prison sections specifically dedicated to housing radicalised detainees to keep them
from spreading their ideas to others.
23
A “Foreign Fighters” task force and a “Returnees Platform” have also been created.
24
This database is used to centralise data initially for passengers using flights, and at a later stage will include
high-speed trains and boats, in order to identify potential “red flags”;
25
A state of emergency is determined in time. During this period specific measures can be taken to counter
imminent problems. After this period, these measures are cancelled and government returns to “normality”.
Some parties of the majority are pleading for this. For a critique, see Amnesty International (2017).
10
Human Rights Watch’s observes that at least six of the government’s newly adopted laws and
regulations threaten fundamental rights. A law allowing the stripping of Belgian citizenship
from dual nationals could create perceptions of a “second-class” citizens based on their
ethnicity and religion. An amendment to the penal code that criminalises the act of leaving
Belgium “with terrorist intent” contains vague language that could restrict the travel of people
without evidence that they intend to commit or support extremist armed acts abroad (Human
Right Watch, 2016).
Also the League for Human Rights expresses its hesitations concerning the new measures.
The organisation calls them “or already existing, or completely pointless, or not applicable”.
According to the organisation, the detention of Foreign Fighters is possible as long as this
decision is taken by a judge, while it pleads strongly against administrative detention. The use
of electronic bracelets against radicalised persons is not possible. Only an independent judge
can take this decision if there is a crime committed. The League is also not in favour of the
prolongation of administrative arrest. The gathering of more information is criticised. Most
of the people involved in the Paris’ attacks were known by the security services. More focused
controls should be introduced instead of considering a priori the whole civil population as
suspect(Belga, 2015).
4. Lessons learned
4.1. Too much law enforcement
At this stage, it may be too early to draw peremptory conclusions. This being said, it is
possible to conduct a preliminary analysis of the expected efficiency of these measures. We
observed for a period a solid reactive law enforcement strategy and a preventive strategy was
largely neglected. A much more active preventive role of the administrative local authority,
more specifically of the mayors was absent. In essence, the judiciary had monopolised the
problem and the administrative and preventive approach was considered in fact as less urgent.
This is the corollary of the policy concept politicians have of the real nature of police work,
namely “tackling crime”, a concept that seems attractive in times of austerity. But we know
that the influence on crime by the police is very limited. That is essentially because the causes
of crime are beyond the sphere of influence of the police and these causes can only be
countered by means of a mature and concrete concept of a Local Integral Security Policy. As
Peter Manning explained already in 1977, the mandate of police is fragile and vulnerable and
police personnel should be aware that they personify a promise they can never keep
(Ponsaers, 2016b).
As a consequence of this, certain aspects relating to the centrality of the law enforcement
approach must be reconsidered. In Belgium, as opposed to several neighbouring countries,
most terrorist files are transmitted very rapidly to the judicial authorities, which has practical
consequences for the manner in which investigations are conducted as well as on the type of
information collected, while it can also slow down investigations. It is argued that local actors
could play a greater role in the prevention of terrorism, ahead of the transmission of files to
the judiciary authorities (Devroe, Edwards & Ponsaers, 2017).
4.2. The challenge for the future
11
Despite all the efforts, however, Belgium remains vulnerable because of the problem of
“returnees”. ISIS attracted between April 2012 and November 2015 419 goers, leaving
Belgium for Syria and Iraq, who were registered as “Foreign Terrorist Fighters”. Most of
those were coming from Brussels (44%). 84% were men. From April 2013 we can observe a
decreasing tendency to depart to the region (Federal Police, 2016).
According to the head of CUTA the ‘Dynamic Foreign Fighters Database’ includes 640
Belgian names. 270 went to Syria and Iraq. 160 of these are still alive (Van Tigchelt, 2017).
According to the head of the Belgian Intelligence Agency 20 of them have the intention of
returning to Belgium (Raes, 2017). Moreover, 120 have already returned to Belgium since
2012. The Belgian authorities are extremely concerned about this evolution.
Returnees raise key questions for security services and authorities. It seems unlikely that
not every returnee will come back with the plan to conduct attacks in Belgium, and some may
even truly seek some sort of rehabilitation within society. Yet, the experience from previous
Jihadi conflicts suggests that a hard core of fighters will seek to pursue violent activities in
Belgium. Other returnees could also pursue propaganda, training or recruitment activities,
capitalising on their fighting experience (Nesser et al., 2016). So far, the Belgian response has
been a tailored one, with a specific risk evaluation for each foreign fighter, and the adoption
of personalised measures via a special task force composed of intelligence services, police
and judicial authorities (Renard, 2017). If more Jihadis return, this becomes difficult for
services that are already under-resourced and overloaded (Henrard, 2017).
Belgium is still undecided on the model of de-radicalisation and disengagement to follow. A
recent report from the intelligence services highlights the growing influence of Salafism in
Belgium (L’Express, 2017). Furthermore, there is the radicalisation among youngsters in
certain neighbourhoods, who adopt the codes of radical Islam as a form of identity rather than
as a belief. Unlike the important recent counter-radicalisation efforts of the Belgian
authorities, the current evolution suggests that much more at the preventative level is needed
(Noppe et al., 2010).
ISIS may be losing territories in Syria and Iraq today, but the idea of a successful Jihadi
project, attracting fighters from across the world is expected to survive the fall of the physical
caliphate. The propaganda and recruitment machinery of ISIS remains strong and risks to be
used to build a new powerful narrative. The danger is that such a tool can further radicalise
individuals. This requires countries such as Belgium to also focus their efforts on cyberspace.
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Brussels terrorist suspect featured in Swedish documentary about integration
  • H Alexander
Alexander, H. (2016). "Brussels terrorist suspect featured in Swedish documentary about integration", http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/15/brussels-terrorist-suspect-featured-in-swedish-documentaryabout/