Article published in Cafebabel
Brussels is mourning the victims of the attacks.© Inês Araújo Reis
Brussels, the most recent target
"What we feared has happened,'' Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said at a press conference on Tuesday after the attacks in Brussels.
At 8h30 local hour, multiple explosions in the departure hall at the Zaventem Airport killed at least 10 people and injured over 100. Later on in full rush hour at 9h, a strong blast in Maelbeek metro station, close to the EU institutions, killed at least 20 people and more than 100 were hurt. The latest aftermath reports an updated death tool of 35 dead and over 250 wounded, some of them in critical state or seriously injured.
As a consequence, the threat level increased to its maximum of 4 and the security increased with the deployment of (more) military and police throughout the city. The borders were closed and the public transports were partially paralysed – including the airport. People were advised to remain inside. Gradually, the city of Brussels is getting back to normality, but the apprehension remains.
Belgian authorities identified three alleged suspects in a recorded image from the airport’s surveillance cameras. Two of them – suspected of being the suicide bombers Ibrahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui - were dressed in black, including a black glove on their left hands, what may lead to the existence of a hidden wire connection to an explosive. Najim Laachraoui was also sought in connection with the Paris attacks in November. The third man, wearing white and a black hat was identified as Fayçal Cheffou. Cheffou was arrested after being identified by the taxi driver who drop the attackers off at the Brussels airport and was already released for lack of evidence by the Belgian the authorities.
After the recent arrest of Salah Abdeslam, the wanted man following the Paris attacks, many voices were linking the explosions in Brussels to the November tragedy in Paris. By now, both Financial Times and POLITICO have already confirmed the existence of detonators in an apartment linked to Abdeslam, even though Abdeslam's lawyer claims that his client "was not aware" of the eminence of the attacks in Brussels. This bloody puzzle is still far away from being entirely completed as some of the men involved are still yet to be identified.
Suis Je Bruxelles?
All of a sudden, Belgium stopped being the victim to become part of the problem. The reason was a statement from Turkish president's office, where Turkey claims to have deported one of the Brussels' attacks perpetrators in June 2014, from Turkey to The Netherlands. The man, who was apparently able to travel freely within the EU with no control at all, was identified as Ibrahim El Bakraoui.
The big question here remains: after such increased security following Charlie Hebdo and the Paris attacks (which have extended into a manhunt in Molenbeek, in Brussels), what is the explanation of Belgian authorities not to track this hawkish down? The Israeli Haaretz went further blaming Belgium of ignoring such an important warning.
This recognition of mea culpa came after both Belgian Interior and Justice Ministers, Jan Jambon and Koen Gees presented their resignation, therefore accusing crucial mistakes with regards to the investigation of this terrorist network. However, PM Charles Michel has not accepted it.
“I offered my resignation. Mister Geens too. They were refused. We continue,” Jambon told Le Soir. “There are two sorts of errors: At the level of justice and the level of the liaison officer in Turkey, which impacts the departments of interior and justice. But now, we continue to do our jobs.”
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said that there is an "urgent" need for Europe to better share intelligence between countries. Interviewed for the Portuguese national channel RTP, Commissioner Carlos Moedas said that we are living in a “war of information” and that “part of the information is not shared.” Moedas made the point towards more transparency in the way intelligence is shared.
Terrorism expert at the Egmont Institute, Thomas Renard, said there had clearly been a "major failure" in Belgium's security services. As for Edward Snowden, speaking at the University of Arizona under the theme of "A Conversation on Privacy", has argued that the attacks in Brussels were fully preventable.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has called on a SecurityUnion for the whole EU. But what does this mean in practical terms - considering the failure of surveillance measures just during the past year? French PM Manuel Valls advanced that “the future of Schengen… is at stake." Moreover, Valls has also focused on the necessity of sharing intelligence amongst countries as a main substructure to keep the EU alive.
March 22th, the day Brussels will never forget. Dr Les (Leszek - Leslie) Sachs © Flickr
Terrorism knocking at our doors
The terror attacks in Brussels struck Europe once again, after four months of the horrific carnage in Paris, as in a way of telling the Western people "we are alive". London, Oslo, Boston, Madrid, Sydney, Ottawa, Paris, and now Brussels. What is it going to be next? The EU is now confronted with the fear of the next attack and preparing its armoury for a possible future surprise. But one thing is certain, terrorism is unpredictable and on the other hand 100% security is simply not possible. Unless, of course, we are living in some kind of authoritarian society.
Since terrorists attacked the premises of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in January 2015, it would be automatically expected an increase in security throughout the EU, but that alarming attack was not enough, we still had Paris, we still had Brussels. Now, European leaders consider the total end of Schengen, one of the basic pillars of the EU, as a way of tackling terrorism.
Important also to note, is the existence of different kinds of terrorism, amongst them, the separatist terrorism, such as IRA, ETA, the Chechen terrorist in Chechnya, the PKK in Turkey, and religious terrorism, such as all the activities of al-Qaeda and also the so-called Islamic State, the attacks in Charlie Hebdo, Paris, Brussels and very recently Lahore, in Pakistan. What we witness today in Europe is a clear religious terrorism in which the attackers consider us, the western people, as faithless and corrupted. The seriousness of this particular dimension of terrorism is the fanaticism of those who practice it and their readiness to explode themselves for the cause they believe.
Why in the first place are they killing innocent civilians in the West? As this question seems to be illogic to many people, the answer dates back to some years ago. While during the past week I have seen many debates on TV, be it Belgian, Portuguese, British or French channels, I find that the mainstream media does not focus the real root of the problem. As Felicity Arbuthnot blatantly put on her recent article "Iraq Invasion- the Anniversary of the Biggest Terrorist Attack in History", all this anger and fury we are witnessing today against us is a consequence of "legit" (bypassing the UN Security Council) terrorist attacks perpetrated by former Western leaders, namely George W. Bush and Tony Blair, with a hand from some other western countries. Afghanistan, Libya, Syria are the sequels of this horrific slaughter in the Middle East...
We as Western citizens do not have to pay for the errors committed by our leaders - leaders whom many of us haven't even voted for - we as Western citizens must not be afraid of going to work in the morning or going to a concert at night. We mourn the pain of our brothers and sisters in the West as much as we mourn for our fellow human beings in the Middle East.