With France still coming to terms with the devastating terror attacks last November that killed 130 people and traumatised a nation, Belgium became the centre of a new national tragedy.
Islamic State (IS) inspired suicide bombings at Brussels Zaventem Airport and a metro killed over 30 people and wounded dozens more. As Belgians mourned the chilling events with Brussels coming to a standstill, attention soon turned to the authorities.
What was the known of these terrorists and was enough done to prevent such attacks? As Salah Abdeselam, the most-wanted fugitive from the Paris attacks was arrested days before the attacks in Brussels, any sigh of relief quickly turned to public anger.
Why did take 4 months to find and arrest Abdeselam, especially in light of evidence that Belgian police had identified the same addresses in December where he was eventually arrested but no action was taken?
Following a number of raids and frantic attempts to identify the attackers, it became clear that the cell behind the Paris and Brussel attacks was one and the same. In fact, Abdeselam’s arrest was the trigger for the attacks in Brussels. Terrorists feared that Abdeselam would blow their cover. Abdeselam himself was planning a machine gun massacre in Paris over Easter.
Najim Laachraoui, who detonated one of the bombs at the airport terminal, was an expert bomb maker whose DNA was found on the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks.
Ibrahim Bakraoui, one of two brothers in the attacks, was a known criminal but more importantly he was arrested twice in Turkey last year and handed over to Belgian authorities as a dangerous jihadi but the security agencies failed to take heed.
Days after the Brussels attacks, another man planning an attack on a metro was killed in Schaerbeek by Belgian forces.
As grave as the attacks in Paris and Brussels, there is still a much darker picture. This is the reality that no place in Europe is safe and no government can guarantee that they will not be the victim of the next attack.
The cells that operate across Europe do not number a few dozen but by some estimates it is as much as 5000.
Such attacks serve to polarise communities and stir anti-Islam fever and make the balance between freedoms and security very difficult to uphold.
The biggest question remains as to whether the U.S. and EU powers have done enough to combat not only IS but to end the 5 year civil war in Syria. After all, IS is merely an offshoot of this war that was treated as bloodshed in a distant land between warring sects than a war that is in all reality on the doorstep of every European.
Attacks seen in Paris and Brussels are regular occurrences in Syria and Iraq. U.S. and European powers must rethink their approach to tackling IS and the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Not only to protect their own at a most sensitive juncture but press for peace and end of suffering of thousands of civilians.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc