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Brussels attacks: How Europe is underestimating ISIS’s terror

ISIS proved that they were still able to perpetuate large-scale coordinated attacks even in a country that had been under strict security alerts

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ISIS has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks that caused the demise of at least thirty people and injured 200 more in Brussels on Tuesday, according to the Belgian Interior ministry.

Twenty of them died in an explosion at the metro station Maelbeek, a few hundred meters away from the European Parliament, while at least ten were killed by suicide bombers at the international airport.

The terrorist group quickly reacted two days after the Belgian police finally tracked down Salah Abdeslam, the last fugitive of the November attacks in Paris, who had been on the run for the last four months.


The French and Belgian government who had praised over the weekend the arrest as a serious blow to terrorist groups were quickly proven wrong.

ISIS proved that they were still able to perpetuate large-scale coordinated attacks even in a country that had been under strict security alert for several month.

Tuesday’s attacks prove that ISIS can rely on a higher number of infiltrated militants than initially thought. Two men triggered their explosive vest in the departure hall of Brussels Zaventem Airport a few minutes after a bomb blasted a metro in the center of the Belgian capital. A third man who accompanied the two suicide bombers at the airport is still at large and actively sought by the police.

Terror objective

The objective pursued by the terrorists is clear: spread terror in the streets of the European capital city and strike directly at the heart of the European Union institutions. As interpreted by the Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and the French President Francois Hollande during their respective allocution, ISIS is targeting the European Union specifically because of its support to democracy worldwide.

This attack not only echoes the massacre in the Bataclan Concert Hall in Paris last November, and other atrocities in the French capital that night, but also the raid in the streets of Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Monday when gunmen charged a hotel that had been converted into the headquarters of a European Union military training operation.

Following the attack, Belgium and its neighbors raised the security levels at their respective frontiers while planes were rerouted to other airports.

Grief

The country has entered into a period of grief and the event will deeply mark a city widely known for its calm and peaceful lifestyle. As a country that has experienced a series of anti-Semitic attacks over the last 30 years, Sunday’s killings are the most tragic in modern Belgian history and ISIS will succeed in its destructive quest if Brussels inhabitants cave into fear and resentment.

As it was the case in Paris however, a large part of the Brussels population took to the street and gathered on the Place de la Bourse to reaffirm their dedication to supporting the European values of freedom, liberalism and democracy.

In this iconic central square, a vigil is being held to show solidarity with the victims of the Brussels attacks. Belgian King Philippe expressed his sympathy to the victims and their families as well as his gratitude to the medical and police officers who intervened. "We are determined to fight and react with calm and dignity. We must maintain our confidence in ourselves. It is this confidence that is our strength and will allow us to prevail.”

Still, this solidarity might be hard to maintain. If the Prime Minister has declared a national mourning period of three days and boosted – while already very high – security standards, one has to acknowledge the fact that the authorities have failed in protecting the country.

For the last four months, the Belgian police has implemented a vast campaign to track down terrorist in the suburbs of the capital. Yet they only found Salah Abdeslam, and the attacks show that they have been incapable of dismantling ISIS’s embedded terrorist cells.

What European populations are starting to realize is that such attacks will no longer be isolated and that ISIS can count on large logistic networks and militant support waiting to engage in terrorist acts. Many observers believe that Europe’s immediate future will no longer be as peaceful as it used to. The European Union’s chance to prevail in this fight will depend on the bloc’s ability to maintain its solidarity and commitment to democracy and liberalism.
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Remi Benoit Piet is an expert on European and Middle Eastern current affairs, public policy, diplomacy and international political economy.