Quite Simply, Why Brussels?

Looking at the factors that brought us to Tuesday's attacks
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2016 12:48 PM CDT
Quite Simply, Why Brussels?
The blown out windows of Zaventem airport are seen after a deadly attack in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday, March 22, 2016.   (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

They are the two words headlining article after article: "Why Brussels?" The question isn't isolated to Tuesday's attacks, but a more overarching one reflective of Belgium's emergence as a European terror hub, though at the Independent, John Lichfield writes that until Tuesday, the country has been an "incubator of jihadism rather than itself a target." Some insights:

  • Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute's Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, outlines four contributing factors to Business Insider: "They have the largest number per capita of western foreign fighters from any country." Intelligence agencies historically focused on EU spying, and the country's legal system doesn't exactly help. "It is a deeply divided government regionally, ethnically, linguistically," says Levitt. "There are multiple parliaments." That makes "communication across jurisdictions" problematic. Further, there are limitations on what type of surveillance police can legally carry out.

  • A Belgian counterterror official put it plainly to BuzzFeed last week: "It's literally an impossible situation and, honestly, it’s very grave." As a small country—it's not quite as large as Maryland—"we just don’t have the people to watch anything else and, frankly, we don’t have the infrastructure to properly investigate or monitor hundreds of individuals suspected of terror links, as well as pursue the hundreds of open files and investigations we have."
  • At the Independent, Lichfield writes the usual suspects are present (unemployment, discrimination), but they're exacerbated by Belgium's "own divided identity as Dutch and French speakers have drifted further apart in the last two decades. Most Muslim youths in Britain or France do consider themselves British or French." It's less clear-cut in Belgium, and the fractured nature extends to law enforcement and politics. "Add to this the fact that Belgium has long been a clearing house for illegal arms deals and that its geographical situation makes it a perfect launch-pad for attacks on neighboring countries."
(More Brussels attack stories.)

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