By Ozer Khalid*
Our globe is developing into a terrorist tinderbox set ablaze by power-thirsty pyromaniacs. On March 22nd, 2016, Europe witnessed bloodshed and butchery that had not been seen since the Paris attacks on November 13th, 2015. Intelligence reveals that an expansive European ISIS network has manifested over the past three years. Spread over six countries, there are at least eighteen people being questioned on their connections to the Paris and Brussels attacks. The already identified culprits, brothers Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and Najim Laachraouiis are merely the tip of the iceberg of a massive operation. For instance, Laachraouiis has been linked to the Paris attacks, which demonstrates how vast the complex cross-border IS network has spread.
It is speculated that Belgium was attacked because of its alliance with the French government and it’s support in the aerial raids vis-à-vis Syria. Brussels is a high-value target city because its status as the capital of the European Union. Furthermore, it is home to the NATO headquarters, and a magnet for countless international agencies and companies. Hundreds of Brussels’ citizens have been invited to join IS in Syria and Iraq. Prime recruitment areas are certain pockets of Brussels, specifically south-west Molenbeek suburbs. The Molenbeek suburbs have a high ethnic Moroccan population and it has become a breeding ground for radicalism. Many IS recruits from Molenbeek were responsible for the Paris attacks, where 130 victims were murdered.
As the IS experience crushing defeats in Iraq and Syria, their terrorist strategies have intensified in European in order to remain relevant. However, the IS has lost 42% of its seized territory and faces aerial assaults from the USA, France and Russia and terrestrial attacks by the Kurds especially in Peshmerga. In order to attract more IS recruits in light of their losses, the IS has deployed shock and fear tactics as lodestone for aspiring radicals.
Thousands of European citizens are lured by IS’s indoctrinated propaganda via social media. Although many IS culprits have prior criminal records, most never had any previous links to terrorism, and thus can go unnoticed under intelligence radars. For example, the Brussels metro bomber, Khalid el-Bakraoui, never had any previous links to terrorism. As a result, Europe has to tackle manifold challenges. Europe’s challenges include filtering trained brain washed fighters from Syria and Iraq camouflaged as refugees, and eradicating the recruitment propaganda that radicalizes impressionable naïve minds.
The logistics behind the IS networks in Europe are alarming. The Brussels and Paris suicide bombers detonated explosive devices using triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD), antecedents found in cosmetics like nail polish remover and hair dyes. Detonating numerous TATP and HMTD explosives efficiently requires dexterity. Intelligence indicates expert use of explosives demonstrates that bomb specialists from Iraq and Syria have managed to infiltrate Europe.
Despite warnings of potential terrorist threats made by Belgium’s Interior Minister, Jan Jambon, Belgian law enforcement were not able to pick up on compelling evidence of a dénouement imprévu. It is believed that the Belgian IS network exercised self-restraint whilst communicating with one another. SIM cards taken from “burners” (disposable pre-paid mobile phones) exhibit no previous proof of text messages, e-mails or any social media interaction. This method demonstrates how IS cells are using encryption tactics for all of their electronic communication.
In Brussels, three bombs detonated all over the capital in over an hour. Methodical trends start to surface after recurrent IS attacks. One of these trends is that IS terrorist attacks are prone to execute numerous simultaneous soft target attacks designed to augment chaos and casualty rates meant to stretch resources and response capabilities of emergency services.
Europe has to deal with the reality that the attacks have become more frequent. Europe does not currently have a system of operations, logistics and cross-departmental security cohesion that the USA established post 9/11. It has become obvious that various intelligence agencies were not providing resources, and similar circumstances allowed the 9/11 attacks. The USA’s success at circumventing any internationally inspired terror attacks testifies demonstrates how much their intelligence field has developed. Even the UK, after a decade of dealing with IRA terrorists, have proven efficiency tackling terrorism.
To reproduce such intelligence resilience across the EU, especially in the Schengen passport-free area, is arduous. Belgium remains socially fragmented between the Flemish and Walloons, wherein inter-agency information sharing is lackluster. Europol is a credible information broker in EU law enforcement, though it is a toothless watchdog lacking the autonomy to carry out independent investigations and remains hamstrung by a small budget.
Europe needs heightened intelligence co-operation, and thus must revamp their reconnaissance and ICT systems. However, how much intelligence violates privacy is a challenging issue. Whereas in the US data collection is expedited (and privacy is a tense issue, especially after the recent reluctance of ‘privacy invasion’ lawsuit by Apple in the San Bernardino attack) Europeans are more sensitive to personal data privacy laws. Many Europeans are against an overbearing Orwellian surveillance state, and deterred of having “big brother watching,’ especially after pre-existing Nazi regimes.
In the long-term, we cannot bomb or legislate our way out of terrorism. The war on terror needs to be re-framed as a war of ideas and ideology rather than ammunition. Initiatives like community engagement to the youth are essential, especially individuals living rough neighborhoods such as Brussels’s Molenbeek and Scharbeek. Employment, education and cultural sensitization among minorities and refugees will prove productive.
Moreover, inter-faith outreach programs on accentuating the peaceful verses and metaphors of Islam require more funding. By doing so, Belgium and international organizations can collaborate and provide the influences necessary to avoid right wing populism that contribute to the alarming speculation of World War III.
Lastly, using the refugees as a scapegoat for the attacks in Brussels and Paris is senseless. The majority of people fleeing Syria and Iraq are escaping a world where violence is a daily occurrence. To use the terror attacks perpetrated for political point scoring is counter-intuitive, especially when the attacks by born and bred Europeans. However, refugees are still subject to abuse and discrimination because of the scapegoat concept that they are affiliated with IS terrorism. Nevertheless, European settled refugees are the ‘eyes and ears’ for law enforcement, intelligence agencies and the European community since their language, cultural understanding and social sensitization are essential intel to avoid future terrorist attacks.
*Ozer Khalid is a Senior Consultant