Brussels and Lahore Bombings: Implications For China’s War On Terror – Analysis

By

On March 22, 2016, Brussels was struck with a pair of synchronized suicide bombings. The first occurred when Ibrahim el-Bakraoui detonated his bomb at 7:58 AM at the departure hall of Zaventem airport; his brother Khalid detonated his bomb just over an hour later at 9:11 AM on a subway train as it was leaving Maelbeek station.

Both brothers had long histories of violent crime in Belgium, but were not recognized by the state as terrorist threats until December 2015. Despite Turkey having expelled Ibrahim in July 2015 for attempting to cross the border into Syria to enlist as a foreign fighter for the Islamic State, Belgian authorities did not attempt to extradite him from the Netherlands, where he had requested to be sent from Turkey. Khalid, in the meantime, was charged with terrorism and had an international warrant issued for his arrest in December 2015 after he was discovered to have rented, under an alias, an apartment that had been used as a safe-house by the terrorists responsible for the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Experts suspect that the capture by Belgian police on March 18, 2016 of Salah Abdeslam, one of the Paris attackers, may have triggered the suicide bombings of the Bakraoui brothers. Abdeslam himself had confessed to his Belgian interrogators that, following the Paris attacks, he had established a new terrorist network in Belgium, drawing on criminal elements to establish spaces for use as safe-houses or bomb-making facilities, and to build up an armoury of weapons, including the low-cost but deadly nail bombs used in the Brussels attacks.1

The Islamic State has claimed and celebrated the Brussels attacks, and European security agencies are working to identify the remaining terrorists involved in the attacks on Paris and Brussels, and to prevent them from launching further ones.2 As The Economist notes:

“Across six European countries 18 jihadists are known to be under arrest, suspected of a hand in the Paris attacks. Even so, IS could muster enough jihadists to mount a complex, co-ordinated operation under the nose of the authorities in Brussels, possibly at short notice. French officials have concluded that IS has learnt how to make bombs from commonplace chemicals such as hair dye and nail-polish remover. They have yet to find any of the group’s bombmakers and struggle to penetrate the jihadists’ communications.”3

Of particular concern is the threat of nuclear terrorism. Belgian security agencies believe the Bakraoui brothers were involved with the video surveillance of a senior Belgian nuclear scientist, and that the terrorist cell the brothers were working with had been planning to kidnap this scientist in a scheme to obtain nuclear material for a dirty bomb. The murder of a security guard at the Belgian national radioactive elements institute at Fleurus, and the reported theft of his security pass, just two days after the Brussels bombings, have raised concerns that the surviving members of the terrorist cell may have revived their earlier plans for a nuclear attack.4 With Belgium’s security apparatus severely understaffed at just half the level of its European peers, and with Belgium having a disaffected immigrant population that has become the largest European source of foreign fighters for the Islamic State, there are fears that Belgium’s overwhelmed security agencies may fail to avert future attacks, just as they had failed to prevent the March 2016 suicide bombings in Brussels.5

Less than a week after the Brussels bombings, a suicide bomber detonated his bomb at a crowded park in Lahore, where Christian families in particular had gathered to celebrate Easter Sunday, killing over 70 victims and injuring over 300. The Islamic militant group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which had once declared allegiance to the Islamic State, but is currently a faction of the Taliban in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack, its fifth since December 2015, and explained that they had specifically targeted the Christians at the park. The Pakistani government has commenced a full-scale paramilitary operation against Islamic militants in Punjab, and as of this time of writing, paramilitary raids have already been launched against suspected terrorists in the Punjab cities of Lahore, Faisalabad, and Multan. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar in turn has vowed further attacks.6

The Brussels and Lahore attacks have implications for China’s War on Terror. The Brussels attack and last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris have the potential to sway the shocked governments of Western Europe to offer greater support for China’s ongoing struggle against Uighur jihadists in Xinjiang, especially since these militants are increasingly forging operational connections with jihadist groups in the Middle East.7

While the West has generally been indifferent to China’s War on Terror, due to concerns over possible human rights violations in Xinjiang, their renewed perception of a community of countries around the world facing the threat of terrorist attacks sponsored or sanctioned by groups like the Taliban or the Islamic State could generate greater empathy for China’s struggle.

The Bangkok bombing of August 2015, which targeted a shrine popular with Chinese tourists, is currently understood by experts to have been the work of Uighur militants who were retaliating against the Thai junta’s repatriation in July 2015 of 109 Uighur refugees back to China.8 Terrorism experts have also observed that 2015 had seen a spike in Uighur militants joining the Taliban in Afghanistan, the al-Nusra Front in Syria, and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. As with foreign fighters from other countries returning home from overseas wars, China fears that these Uighur fighters will return to Xinjiang armed with dangerous military skills, expertise, and experience gained from militant training camps and on the battlefield.9 This threat can also be seen in the recent arrests and shootings of Uighur terrorist suspects in Indonesia, whom Indonesian security agencies have identified as having joined the Eastern Indonesia Mujahidin, a terrorist group which is affiliated with the Islamic State.10

Apart from the general danger to life and property posed by terrorist attacks, China’s overseas construction projects, especially those connected with the “One Belt One Road” initiative, are particularly vulnerable. The suicide bombing in Lahore, for example, points to the serious security vulnerabilities faced by Chinese construction firms involved with the ongoing China-Pakistan Economic Corridor megaproject.11 The heightened security risk from international terrorism facing China’s overseas projects was also vividly highlighted in the November 2015 attack in Mali on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako by jihadists from al-Mourabitoun and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in which 19 people were killed, including 3 executives from China Railway Construction Corporation.12 As the Chinese government and China’s globalizing corporations are not expected to exit their international projects anytime soon, they may expect further confrontations with global terrorism.

References:
“After shootout, China says Uighur militants a threat to Indonesia.” Reuters, March 17, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-china-indonesia-security-idUKKCN0WJ12R.

“Belgian nuclear guard shot, prosecutor rules out militant link.” Reuters, March 26, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-nuclear-idUSKCN0WS09E.

Blanchard, Ben, and Martina, Michael. “After Paris, China calls for world’s support in Xinjiang.” Reuters, November 16, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://news.yahoo.com/china-says-global-war-terror-target-uighur-militants-030350619.html.

Blenkinsop, Philip. “Viewed as gangsters, Brussels bombers were able to plot unseen.” Reuters, March 26, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-bombers-idUSKCN0WS07Q.

“Bombings in Brussels: The new normal.” The Economist, March 26, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21695393-europe-has-suffered-another-series-murderous-attacks-jihadists-they-will-not-be.

Bukhari, Mubasher. “Pakistanis hunt militants behind blast that killed at least 70.” Reuters, March 28, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-blast-idUSKCN0WT0HR.

“China to Bring Home Uighur Terror Suspects Held in Indonesia.” Bloomberg, March 18, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://jakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/china-to-bring-home-uighur-terror-suspects-arrested-in-indonesia/.

Cruickshank, Paul, and Lister, Tim. “The mysterious ‘Syrian’ thought to be at heart of ISIS attacks in Europe.” CNN, March 26, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/25/europe/mysterious-syrian-terror-attacks/index.html.

Cunningham, Susan. “Bangkok Shrine Bombing – Case (Pretty Much) Closed.” Forbes, December 23, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/susancunningham/2015/12/23/bangkok-shrine-bombing-case-pretty-much-closed/.

Emmott, Robin. “Nails and nail varnish: Brussels bombers prepared a ‘satanic’ cocktail. Reuters, March 26, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-explosives-idUSKCN0WR1CT.

Fuller, Thomas, and Wong, Edward. “Thailand Blames Uighur Militants for Bombing at Bangkok Shrine.” New York Times, September 15, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/16/world/asia/thailand-suspects-uighurs-in-bomb-attack-at-bangkok-shrine.html.

Hewitt, Duncan. “China Condemns Brussels Attacks But State Media Criticize US Foreign Policy, Say Europe Seems Powerless To Stop Terrorism.” International Business Times, March 23, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://www.ibtimes.com/china-condemns-brussels-attacks-state-media-criticize-us-foreign-policy-say-europe-2341609.

“Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui: From Bank Robbers to Brussels Bombers.” The New York Times, March 24, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/world/europe/expanding-portraits-of-brussels-bombers-ibrahim-and-khalid-el-bakraoui.html.

Leroy, Didier, and Hiltermann, Joost. “Why Belgium?” The New York Review of Books, March 24, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/03/24/brussels-attacks-isis-why-belgium/.

Lim, Alvin Cheng-Hin. “‘Iron Brothers’: Sino-Pakistani Relations and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.” Eurasia Review, May 7, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://www.eurasiareview.com/07052015-iron-brothers-sino-pakistani-relations-and-the-china-pakistan-economic-corridor-analysis/.

Macdonald, Alastair. “The race against time that Belgium lost.” Reuters, March 27, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-time-insight-idUSKCN0WT0L0.

Malik, Mehreen Zahra, and Bukhari, Mubasher. “Pakistan to launch paramilitary crackdown after Easter bombing kills 70.” Reuters, March 28, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-blast-idUSKCN0WT0HR.

Owen, Tess. “Security Guard’s Murder Fuels Fears That Nuclear Plants in Belgium Could Be Attacked.” Vice News, March 27, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. https://news.vice.com/article/security-guards-murder-fuels-fears-that-nuclear-plants-in-belgium-could-be-attacked.

“Pakistan bombing: More attacks vowed.” AFP, March 29, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://news.iafrica.com/worldnews/1024546.html.

“Pakistan Easter suicide attack kills 72 in Lahore.” AFP, March 28, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/pakistan-suicide-attack/2641068.html.

“Pakistan Launches Raids on Militants in Three Cities as Easter Bomb Death Toll Hits 70.” Vice News, March 28, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. https://news.vice.com/article/pakistani-authorities-launch-raids-bomb-death-toll-hits-70.

Rogin, Josh. “Belgium Warned of Attacks. It Wasn’t Enough.” Bloomberg, March 22, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-03-22/belgium-warned-of-attacks-it-wasn-t-enough.

“Three Chinese executives among dead as China condemns ‘savage’ Mali attack.” Reuters, November 21, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://af.reuters.com/article/maliNews/idAFL3N13G03I20151121.

Tiezzi, Shannon. “Chinese Official: Uyghurs Joining Islamic State.” The Diplomat, March 12, 2015. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://thediplomat.com/2015/03/chinese-official-uyghurs-joining-islamic-state/.

Tiezzi, Shannon. “Official: Indonesia Working With China to Investigate Uyghur Terrorist Suspect.” The Diplomat, January 7, 2016. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/official-indonesia-working-with-china-to-investigate-uyghur-terrorist-suspect/.

Sangadji, Ruslan. “Uighur militants infiltrating Indonesia.” The Jakarta Post, March 18 2016. Accessed March 29, 2016. http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/03/18/uighur-militants-infiltrating-indonesia.html.

Volodzko, David. “China’s New Headache: Uyghur Militants in Syria.” The Diplomat, March 8, 2016, accessed March 29, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/03/chinas-new-headache-uyghur-militants-in-syria/.

Notes:
1 “Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui: From Bank Robbers to Brussels Bombers,” The New York Times, March 24, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/world/europe/expanding-portraits-of-brussels-bombers-ibrahim-and-khalid-el-bakraoui.html. Josh Rogin, “Belgium Warned of Attacks. It Wasn’t Enough,” Bloomberg, March 22, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2016-03-22/belgium-warned-of-attacks-it-wasn-t-enough. Philip Blenkinsop, “Viewed as gangsters, Brussels bombers were able to plot unseen,” Reuters, March 26, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-bombers-idUSKCN0WS07Q. Robin Emmott, “Nails and nail varnish: Brussels bombers prepared a ‘satanic’ cocktail,” Reuters, March 26, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-explosives-idUSKCN0WR1CT.

2 Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “The mysterious ‘Syrian’ thought to be at heart of ISIS attacks in Europe,” CNN, March 26, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/25/europe/mysterious-syrian-terror-attacks/index.html. Didier Leroy and Joost Hiltermann, “Why Belgium?” The New York Review of Books, March 24, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/03/24/brussels-attacks-isis-why-belgium/.

3 “Bombings in Brussels: The new normal,” The Economist, March 26, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21695393-europe-has-suffered-another-series-murderous-attacks-jihadists-they-will-not-be.

4 “Belgian nuclear guard shot, prosecutor rules out militant link,” Reuters, March 26, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-nuclear-idUSKCN0WS09E. Tess Owen, “Security Guard’s Murder Fuels Fears That Nuclear Plants in Belgium Could Be Attacked,” Vice News, March 27, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, https://news.vice.com/article/security-guards-murder-fuels-fears-that-nuclear-plants-in-belgium-could-be-attacked.

5 Alastair Macdonald, “The race against time that Belgium lost,” Reuters, March 27, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-belgium-blast-time-insight-idUSKCN0WT0L0.

6 “Pakistan Easter suicide attack kills 72 in Lahore,” AFP, March 28, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asiapacific/pakistan-suicide-attack/2641068.html. Mubasher Bukhari, “Pakistanis hunt militants behind blast that killed at least 70,” Reuters, March 28, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-blast-idUSKCN0WT0HR. “Pakistan Launches Raids on Militants in Three Cities as Easter Bomb Death Toll Hits 70,” Vice News, March 28, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, https://news.vice.com/article/pakistani-authorities-launch-raids-bomb-death-toll-hits-70. Mehreen Zahra Malik and Mubasher Bukhari, “Pakistan to launch paramilitary crackdown after Easter bombing kills 70,” Reuters, March 28, 2016, accessed March 28, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-blast-idUSKCN0WT0HR. “Pakistan bombing: More attacks vowed,” AFP, March 29, 2016, accessed March 29, 2016, http://news.iafrica.com/worldnews/1024546.html.

7 Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina, “After Paris, China calls for world’s support in Xinjiang,” Reuters, November 16, 2015, accessed March 29, 2016, http://news.yahoo.com/china-says-global-war-terror-target-uighur-militants-030350619.html. Duncan Hewitt, “China Condemns Brussels Attacks But State Media Criticize US Foreign Policy, Say Europe Seems Powerless To Stop Terrorism,” International Business Times, March 23, 2016, accessed March 29, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.com/china-condemns-brussels-attacks-state-media-criticize-us-foreign-policy-say-europe-2341609.

8 Susan Cunningham, “Bangkok Shrine Bombing – Case (Pretty Much) Closed,” Forbes, December 23, 2015, accessed March 29, 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/susancunningham/2015/12/23/bangkok-shrine-bombing-case-pretty-much-closed/. Thomas Fuller and Edward Wong, “Thailand Blames Uighur Militants for Bombing at Bangkok Shrine,” New York Times, September 15, 2015, accessed March 29, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/16/world/asia/thailand-suspects-uighurs-in-bomb-attack-at-bangkok-shrine.html.

9 David Volodzko, “China’s New Headache: Uyghur Militants in Syria,” The Diplomat, March 8, 2016, accessed March 29, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/03/chinas-new-headache-uyghur-militants-in-syria/. Shannon Tiezzi, “Chinese Official: Uyghurs Joining Islamic State,” The Diplomat, March 12, 2015, accessed March 29, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2015/03/chinese-official-uyghurs-joining-islamic-state/.

10 “China to Bring Home Uighur Terror Suspects Held in Indonesia,” Bloomberg, March 18, 2015, accessed March 29, 2016, http://jakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/china-to-bring-home-uighur-terror-suspects-arrested-in-indonesia/. Ruslan Sangadji, “Uighur militants infiltrating Indonesia,” The Jakarta Post, March 18 2016, accessed March 29, 2016, http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/03/18/uighur-militants-infiltrating-indonesia.html. “After shootout, China says Uighur militants a threat to Indonesia,” Reuters, March 17, 2016, accessed March 29, 2016, http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-china-indonesia-security-idUKKCN0WJ12R. Shannon Tiezzi, “Official: Indonesia Working With China to Investigate Uyghur Terrorist Suspect,” The Diplomat, January 7, 2016, accessed March 29, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/official-indonesia-working-with-china-to-investigate-uyghur-terrorist-suspect/.

11 Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim, “‘Iron Brothers’: Sino-Pakistani Relations and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” Eurasia Review, May 7, 2015, accessed March 29, 2016, http://www.eurasiareview.com/07052015-iron-brothers-sino-pakistani-relations-and-the-china-pakistan-economic-corridor-analysis/.

12 “Three Chinese executives among dead as China condemns ‘savage’ Mali attack,” Reuters, November 21, 2015, accessed March 29, 2016, http://af.reuters.com/article/maliNews/idAFL3N13G03I20151121.

Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim

Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim

Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim is a research fellow with International Public Policy Pte. Ltd. (IPP), and is the author of Cambodia and the Politics of Aesthetics (Routledge 2013). He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and has taught at Pannasastra University of Cambodia and the American University of Nigeria. Prior to joining IPP, he was a research fellow with the Longus Institute for Development and Strategy. Email: Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim

One thought on “Brussels and Lahore Bombings: Implications For China’s War On Terror – Analysis

  • March 30, 2016 at 5:52 pm
    Permalink

    Look. This is so obvious: we industrialized, mechanized, weaponized human beings have created a world in which there is constant aggression on the part of the large powerful countries against the smaller, mostly defenseless entities which have resources that the Big Boys need and will do anything to control. This is also a world in which the advanced countries really need cheap labor to do their grunt work and where a lot of unemployed, angry young men have nothing to do with their time/energy except to fight as mercenaries. When the advanced world for its own entirely selfish purposes is constantly stepping on their faces, what is it they can do? They can strap on a suicide vest and blow up a lot of comfy citizens in the advanced world, who really only want to continue their exploitation of their victims. The people in the advanced countries then scream “terrorism” and give up their civil rights for the sake of more police repression that ends up affecting them as well as the so-called ‘terrorists.’ Speaking realistically, we in the advanced world are the real terrorists with our drones, cruise missiles, cluster bombs, land mines, depleted uranium munitions. We could spend our efforts simplifying our lives and rescuing our damaged planet, but No, why do something so practical when it is so much fun to chase and murder terrorists? Anytime we want to change our policies and our lifestyle (which is greedy and exploitive)we can end terrorism, but it suits us to have an “enemy” and to go around yelling “Je suis Charlie” and all the rest of our stupid slogans. Get real. The situation we face won’t change until we change.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CLOSE
CLOSE