Brussels, the sanctuary for terror suspects, is attacked!

The attacks did not come as a surprise as many governments have warned that attacks are being planned and were imminent

Mohamed Chebarro
Mohamed Chebarro
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The security forces in France and Belgium hardly had the time to rejoice over the arrest of Salah Abdussalam, after a four months manhunt across Europe, until terrorists struck again, this time in Brussels. The attacks did not come as a surprise as many governments have warned, time and again, that attacks are being planned and were imminent. The PM of Belgium clearly stated: “What we feared has happened”, warning of the possibility of more attacks in the future.

What is disturbing though is the level of complicity between the Paris attack’s prime suspect Saleh Abdussalam and his accomplices and may be those who staged the Brussels attacks, Belgium and French citizens of North African origin who harbored a criminal or were indirectly complicit in plans to bomb and harm civilians in Paris and later Brussels.

The capture of Abdussalam alive is seen as an important coup and potentially a gold mine of information as the security forces are desperate to get closer to the terror mindset and those behind them who planned the deadly Paris attacks on November 13, 2015. The security forces expected, we are told, a reaction to Abdulsalam arrest. However, they did not factor it to be as bold and daring as the attacks at Brussels Airport and Maelbeek Metro station.

Cells linked to Abdussalam did not wait for the police to round them up and instead launched more attacks that clearly were in the planning stages. The debriefing of Abdussalam is yet to yield insight into the terror organization’s operations and its networks across Europe. However, his capture has revealed the surprisingly reliable network of friends and family that could harbor terrorists for a longtime few miles from central Brussels.

Muslims in Europe need to decide whether they wish to continue to offer sanctuary for those who have once been sons, cousins, business partners or neighbors to turn criminals bent on killing innocent commuters

Mohamed Chebarro

Molenbeeck, Shaerbeek, and Forest in Belgium, Seine St Denis, Courneuve, and others ghettos like suburbs of Paris are hubs for rough elements that melt in housing estates inhabited by people of immigrant background.

The racially diverse neighborhoods have gradually become hubs for dissent. On the other hand, due to budgetary cuts and pressure on social services during the past two decades in European cities, alternative networks of social support have grown on the fringe of municipal and state apparatus. Pockets of poverty have grown minutes from city centers and within them alternative networks of social support diverted aid and services for many inhabitants in return for future unspecified services.

Such services were accurately portrayed in a 2012 Hollywood movie, Erased, where the daughter of a CIA operative, compromised by a deal gone wrong and pursued by his employer, finds hideouts and help from his daughter’s contacts among undocumented immigrant in Belgian neighborhoods. The film showed how the daughter and her ex-CIA father found safe houses and transport around the city under the noses of agents of the law who were trying to hunt them down.

Finding sanctuaries

It is in those streets that fugitive Salah Abdulsalam found sanctuary. He was part of the fabric like many of his peers from early age benefiting from the comfort and security of such neighborhoods. Since the Paris attacks of November 2015, experts close to the investigations have gone on to describe him as well known in the Molenbeek area and known in local legitimate and illegitimate circles hanging out in local cafes, sports clubs and even mosque.

The story of Abdulsalam is yet to unfold but one thing is sure that the enemy within is not a fallacy in many European cities and that is why the wake up calls will keep coming. Brussels today, Paris yesterday and more such attacks tomorrow. In all, it is the Muslim communities in those cities that must face up to realities. Do they wish to live and flourish in such cities that they adopted as home when life has become unbearable in their native countries, or they wish to be accomplices and potential silent witnesses to onslaught being carried out in the name of a false cause against their host communities.

Muslims in Molenbeek, Schaerbeek, and elsewhere in Europe need to decide, as time is running out, whether they wish to continue to offer sanctuaries for those who have once been sons, cousins, business partners or neighbors turning into criminals bent on killing innocent commuters in a bid to drum up some wide ranging false Jihadi cause in Syria, Iraq or Palestine. Or even allow their sons and loved ones to be used in canny plots to spread chaos in remote societies and countries as a punishment they were told for EU and US policies upholding human rights and calling for the removal of dictators like Assad who continue to kill innocent civilians and destroy cities and villages across Syria and people who have dared to rebel against his rule for the past five years.

The current threat to Europe and the wider western world should be looked at from this prism as statements by Assad and his cronies such as Hezbollah leader in Lebanon did not hide in their vindictive language that the attacks in Brussels today and Paris yesterday are a price Belgium and France are paying for supporting the rights of Syrians long oppressed by Assad to rise.
Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London. He tweets @mochebaro.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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