|Belgian soldiers patrol in the neighborhood of Molenbeek, |
in Brussels, Belgium © Youssef Boudlal / Reuters
However, the mayor of the Molenbeek district of Brussels, notorious for harboring jihadists, believes it was not her responsibility to follow up on the information, according to a report by the New York Times.
“What was I supposed to do about them? It is not my job to track possible terrorists,” Francoise Schepmans said in an interview with the paper, adding that these things are “the responsibility of the federal police.” I wonder how well she is sleeping at night?
It is alleged that the mayor had the addresses and names of over 80 suspected militants. The list was based on information from Belgium’s security services, and included both the mastermind of the operation, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and the two brothers, Salah and Brahim Abdeslam, who participated in the November 13 attacks.
Abaaoud was a Molenbeek resident who had left to fight alongside Islamic State (IS/ISIS, formerly ISIL) in the Syrian jihad in early 2014. He was killed in a police raid in Saint-Denis last week, after taking the lives of 130 people in the Paris attacks.
The Paris public prosecutor, Francois Molins, on Tuesday revealed phone records that, according to France Info, proved Abaaoud was at the scene of the Bataclan concert venue where 90 people were killed amid a rescue operation. Authorities also believe the terrorist was planning a follow-up attack on the French capital’s La Defence business district days after the November 13 attacks.
According to Molins, it was the police raid at Saint-Denis, where the terrorist, his cousin and another militant were holed up, that put a stop to the plans.
The issue of the Belgian blunder with the terrorist list touches on a wider issue.
An already divided Belgium, which recently went without a functioning government for over 540 days, now faces the blame for becoming a European terrorist hub, or a “rear base of Islamic barbarity” – rhetoric Flemish nationalists have used in the past to allude to the allegedly lax attitude of the French-speaking Socialist Party toward the Muslim minority.
In an interview to Europe 1 radio, Molenbeek mayor Schepmans admitted to knowing that a “terrorist network was formed in Molenbeek,” but also said that “it is up to state security services to control what preachers are saying… The municipal authority has different tasks.”
She did admit that “religious fundamentalism had grown in the area unattended in the years from 1970 to 1980.”
For Europe, the issue is also clear: no state of emergency declaration in another EU member country, such as France, would do any good in stopping potential terrorists based in Belgium from moving about the continent freely, former French intelligence officer Alain Rodier told RT's Sophie Shevardnadze in her SophieCo program.
Furthermore, the security apparatus in Belgium is only as vast as the country itself. According to Rodier, while the problem of European terrorism belongs to the continent as a whole, Belgium can do little to contain the threat forming at home on its own.
“I think that it is necessary to help them [Belgium], to reinforce them in terms of equipment and resources,” Rodier says. “Why is Belgium always at the center of all such events? Even if we go as far back as 30 years ago, when terrorist attacks were carried out by the extreme left? The reason is that, even back then, Belgium was the crossing point for terrorist groups, the Red Army Faction, etc. The fact is that the geographical location of Belgium makes it basically a crossroads,” the former spy explains. One could add a very tolerant, laconic government.
|Members of the Muslim community attend the Friday prayer at Attadamoun |
Mosque in the neighbourhood of Molenbeek, in Brussels, Belgium,
November 20, 2015. © Youssef Boudlal
The anonymous letter – printed out and full of spelling mistakes - said that “no mosque and none of your businesses will be safe” and threatened that “brothers [Muslims] will be slaughtered like pigs and crucified as our Lord converts their souls.”
The document was found in the mosque’s mailbox by Jamal Habbachich, one of the local Muslim leaders and the president of Molenbeek’s mosque association, and he is set to address the government about the issue.
"We will turn to the authorities of our country and complain to the police, naturally. Because there are two situations when you receive this kind of letter: it is a document written by someone wacky unbalanced, or it's a very serious threat,” Habbachich told the local media outlet RTBF.
“What also concerns me is the name of the author of the letter which we do not know, and who uses similar terminology to that of the Islamic state,” he added.
Given the context, Jamal Habbachich is also worried about a possible increase in Islamophobic acts, be it verbal or physical abuse. "This letter is one of the elements," he said. “In the current climate, with fear in everyone’s minds, it is disturbing,” he also told Le Parisien.
Two other mosques in the region also got threats like this, getting similar letters.
The Attadamoune mosque is considered a key Muslim institution in the Molenbeek district, an area near the Belgian capital that is connected with the attacks in Paris on November 13 that left 130 people dead.
Last week, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that the government may close “certain radical mosques” in the Molenbeek district over fears that it was the place where the Paris attacks were orchestrated.
Belgian capital Brussels was on a lockdown for four days last week, too, over concerns that Paris-like attacks would occur there.