Brussels attack is just the beginning of a dreadful arc of terror and mayhem

By Matthew Fisher

The horrifying images from Belgium on Tuesday, with travellers covered in blood while smoke billowed around them, have become so familiar to us that we risk becoming jaded by them. We must not be.

My sense of it, having spent much of my adult life in the Middle East and Europe, is that we are still only at the beginning of this dreadful arc of terror and mayhem. Intelligence sources believe jihadists could strike 10 cities in Europe, North America and Asia at once, paralyzing global travel and commerce.

This is of a piece with reports that French police are convinced that as many as 90 suicide bombers are hiding in Europe awaiting instructions about when and where to blow themselves up.

Most westerners, including almost all Canadians, still have not begun to understand that they and their way of life are under attack by a lethal army of kamikazes who are convinced they are doing God’s work and that they will soon have a hallowed place in paradise. Governments in Europe are more seized with the threat posed by extremists than the public, but there has not yet been much impetus for the Canadian government to combat this growing peril.

One need only to have listened to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tepid response to the multiple terrorist attacks carried out in Paris late last year and his decision to withdraw Canada’s thin combat contribution to the war against ISIL to understand that he does not regard Canadians as being in danger. His response was natural, given that Canada is a sleepy hollow and that Canadians have no idea what it is like to live in a city under what Belgian authorities said Tuesday was “the highest state of alert.”

Canada is not immune. About 100 Canadians are believed be fighting under ISIL’s flag in Iraq and Syria.

Aid workers from Quebec have been killed recently in terrorist strikes in Africa. A mining executive from Alberta has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by an Islamic group in the southern Philippines. There have been two terrorist attacks inspired by Islamic State on Canadian soil already. Several others have been thwarted.

The worst part of it is that nobody has any idea how many sleeper cells are out there. But with almost every street, bus stop and shopping centre a soft target, with travel so easy today, and so many potential terrorists carrying western passports and familiar with western ways, it is almost impossible to track all these people at once, especially when they disappear into flourishing Arab communities.

Brussels, with several districts that have Arab majorities, has been a nervous cauldron since the attacks in Paris were directly linked to people living there. In December, there was already an oppressive police presence in the Gare du Nord and the Gare du Midi. It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone was looking over their shoulders.

For now, Brussels is the epicentre of jihadism in Europe. To anyone not closely familiar with the pleasant but rather dull city of European Union bureaucrats and senior NATO officers, the gorgeous Grand Place, steak frites and steamed mussels, this may come as a surprise.

To those who visit the community of Molenbeek, near the city centre, it might not be.

If they walked around Molenbeek, as I did for many hours in the rain three months ago, they would understand why those responsible for protecting Europeans have had such a difficult time locating and confronting the terrorists who mix in with the millions of other Muslims now living among them.

About 100,000 people are crammed into Molenbeek, a few kilometres where a suicide bomber struck the subway station Tuesday, while two other bombers attacked the airport. Nearly half of the population in the dense warren of cobblestone streets in Molenbeek are Muslims, mostly of Moroccan descent.

Churches are mostly empty and almost derelict in that hardscrabble quarter. But the mosques are packed, as are shops and restaurants where Islamic dress and food not only predominate, they are about the only things to be seen. Arabic, much more than French or Flemish, is the lingua franca.

The challenge for Europe’s seriously overstressed security agencies is that it is difficult to penetrate places such as Molenbeek — and there are score of them across the continent.

It is not only Walloons and Flems who are afraid. The fear is palpable among the Arabs of Brussels, too. They detest being singled out by the police and the media and are terrified by the extremists who live among them. Their wariness at the few Caucasians who venture there is acute. The climate of fear makes everyone deeply suspicious and keeps almost everyone silent.

Theierry Monasse / AFP, Getty Images

35 killed, 200 injured in Brussels airport, metro station blasts

Brussels, March 22

A series of explosions ripped through Brussels airport and a metro train on Tuesday, killing around 35 persons and injuring more than 200 in the latest attacks claimed by Islamic State militant group to rock Europe.

Security was tightened across the jittery continent and transport links paralysed after the bombings that Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel branded “blind, violent and cowardly”.

“This is a day of tragedy, a black day,” Michel said on national television.

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders warned that authorities fear suspects could still be at large in the city that is home to both NATO and the European Union.

Meanwhile, Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Brussels attack, a news agency affiliated with the group said. “Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital Brussels,” AMAQ agency said.

The bloodshed came just four days after the dramatic arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam—the prime suspect in the Paris terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State group—after four months on the run.

Belgian authorities had been on alert after Abdeslam, Europe’s most wanted man, told investigators he had been planning an attack on Brussels.

Two blasts shattered the main hall of Zaventem Airport at around 8:00 am (1330 IST), with prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw saying there was probably at least one suicide bomber.

A third hit a train at Maalbeek metro station in the heart of the city’s EU quarter, just as commuters were making their way to work in rush hour.

Pierre Meys, spokesman for the Brussels fire brigade, told AFP at least 14 persons had been killed at the airport, while Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur said “around 20” died in the underground blast. More than 200 persons have been wounded, several critically.

Witnesses said victims lay in pools of blood at the airport, their limbs blown off. There were chaotic scenes as passengers fled in panic, with a thick plume of smoke rising from the main terminal building.

“A man shouted a few words in Arabic and then I heard a huge blast,” airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura told AFP, his hands bloodied.

“A lot of people lost limbs. One man had lost both legs and there was a policeman with a totally mangled leg.” An Army team later blew up a suspect package at the shuttered airport, with media reporting the police had found an unexploded suicide vest.

At Maalbeek station, paramedics tended to commuters with bloodied faces as the streets filled with the wailing of sirens.

At least two Polish nationals and a Briton were confirmed among the injured in a city that is the EU’s symbolic capital.

The bombings triggered a transport shutdown, with flights halted and metro, tram and bus services all suspended.

Brussels airport said it had cancelled all flights until at least 6 am (0500 GMT) on Wednesday and the complex had been evacuated and trains to the airport had been stopped. Passengers were taken to coaches from the terminal that would remove them to a secure area.

All three main long-distance rail stations in Brussels were closed and train services on the cross-channel tunnel from London to Brussels were suspended.

Airports across Europe swiftly announced they were boosting security, including in London, Paris, and Frankfurt.

Across the Atlantic, New York and Washington ordered extra counter-terror officers to crowded areas and train stations.

Leaders across Europe reacted with shock and solidarity, urging closer counter-terror cooperation on a continent that has been on high alert for months.

“The whole of Europe has been hit,” said French President Francois Hollande, whose country is still reeling from jihadist attacks in Paris that killed 130 persons in November.

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned of the “very real” terrorist threat faced by countries across Europe, declaring: “We will never left these terrorists win.” Russia and Turkey—also targets of deadly attacks in the last eight months—said the blasts highlighted the need to fight terrorism of every hue and across all borders.

Brussels residents were told to stay inside. Security was also beefed up at Belgium’s nuclear plants—where non-essential staff were sent home—and at EU buildings in the French city of Strasbourg, home to the European Parliament.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon announced that Belgium’s terror threat had been raised from three to a maximum of four, and the country’s national security council was due to meet.

And after rumours of arrests and searches, authorities told media to halt all reporting on the investigation into the bombings, “so as not to harm the inquiry”.

In Cairo, the head of Sunni Islam’s leading seat of learning, Al-Azhar, said the attacks “violate the tolerant teachings of Islam”.

Messages of solidarity poured out on social media, with thousands of people sharing images of beloved Belgian cartoon character Tintin in tears.

It has been a week of drama and bloodshed in Brussels.

Last Tuesday saw a shootout in the city’s south that saw a Kalashnikov-wielding man killed and four police officers wounded.

Investigators believe key Paris suspect Abdeslam slipped out of the apartment as the gunbattle broke out. He was arrested three days later in Brussels’ gritty Molenbeek district—just around the corner from his family home.

Foreign Minister Reynders said at the weekend that Abdeslam—believed to have played a key logistical role in the Paris carnage—had told investigators he was planning some sort of new attack.

Shiraz Maher, a radicalisation expert at Kings College London, said it was “very likely that this attack will have been planned and prepared well in advance of last week’s arrest of Salah Abdeslam”.

“It therefore points to the existence of a broad and sophisticated terrorist network in Belgium, that extends beyond the one which attacked France last year,” Maher said. — AFP/Reuters

PM Modi condemns terror attack in Pak near Wagah border

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has condemned Sunday evening’s terror attack in Pakistan near the Wagah border, which has claimed at least 60 lives. Continue reading PM Modi condemns terror attack in Pak near Wagah border

Some federal laws police and spies can use to fight extremism

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Some federal laws police and spy agencies can use to fight extremism:

Anti-Terrorism Act: Significant changes passed following the 9-11 attacks. Defines terrorism, provides for listing of terrorist entities, spells out penalties for taking part in, facilitating, financing terrorism. Strengthens security of information law. Continue reading Some federal laws police and spies can use to fight extremism

Canadian Parliament under Terrorist Attack: 2 dead and gunfire inside Parliament

By Andrew Duffy
of Ottawa Citizen
Soldier, gunman who died in Ottawa rampage identified as Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.
Suspect, reportedly Canadian born Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, killed in Centre Block shootout.
Three victims treated at Ottawa Hospital Civic campus

A terrorist struck at the heart of the nation Wednesday, gunning down a sentry at the National War Memorial and wreaking havoc on Parliament Hill where the marble and stone halls echoed with gunfire and ran with blood. The gunman was shot and killed near the Library of Parliament, reportedly by House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former RCMP officer, and the man responsible for security on the Hill.

It appears the gunman walked right past the Centre Block’s Reading Room, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with his caucus Wednesday morning. Continue reading Canadian Parliament under Terrorist Attack: 2 dead and gunfire inside Parliament