Belgium Terror Plot Foiled: Jihadist Ripple Effect in Europe?
By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
After the Charlie Hebdo massacre last week in France, tighter security measures and arrests went into action throughout Europe. The knee-jerk reaction was in response to ineffective counter-terrorist screening and monitoring efforts in dealing with transnational jihadists; particularly, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, who were able to plan a large scale murder of 17 people.
Police found ISIS flags, detonators, cash and automatic weapons in what was believed to be Amedy Coulibaly’s rented apartment. An arms dealer in Belgium admitted to selling the French jihadists involved with the Charlie Hebdo massacre automatic weapons and a rocket launcher for less than 5,000 euros. He turned himself over to authorities last Tuesday. But how many other jihadists are in Europe? How many other stockpiles of weapons exist there?
This all sparked a rippling counterattack by security forces in multiple countries across Europe. In Belgium, 13 people were arrested and two suspects planning an imminent attack were shot dead.
In Germany, authorities detained five Islamist Turks. Three were released. As in France, the ability to detain them was long in the making. The decision to do so was to prevent attacks, not on the people of Germany, but specifically, as with Belgium, actions were taken in response to the Islamist threats against police and security officers.
Europe has long enough followed the logic of not pressing the jihadist enemy too hard. If the enemy wanted to leave, then why shouldn’t they just let them? If the enemy was operating here but attacking somewhere else, why bother? This was, of course, not the official policy, it was a de facto practice that stemmed from complacency; the lack of awareness of threat risk, ignorance and the socio-political comfort of relative safety removed from Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan. It remains to be seen if the latest drive in anti-terrorism is merely a high-alert status or something much more.
Europe’s war against violent Islamists appears to be re-doubling its efforts. Part of the duration and intensity of this new resolve will depend on the level of tangible resistance from international, as well as national, jihadists. In some ways, there sadly has to be other attacks against Europe from al-Qaida and ISIS (or lone wolf types) in order to appear effective and strong. If there is no follow-on attack then they risk an image of weakness. On the other hand, if they attack minor targets of opportunity, as in Charlie Hebdo, for cited religious offenses punishable by death, then they risk having their most trained operatives being rooted out and neutralized before a larger attack can be initiated. European authorities are right to go on the offensive and especially in preventing imminent threats of attack, the question is what is their strategy and who will go silent first? How hard and for how long should we press if there is nothing to press against? How should we root them out?
Likely scenarios: 1) State security pressure and measures will tighten throughout Europe and most jihadists will go underground. 2) Security pressure and measures will tighten and jihadists will increase attacks. The second has already happened in the short term and ISIS has made threats indicating even more severe ones, but it is impossible to know the extent of follow-up attacks. How many more are there? Also, last September ISIS called for jihadists to “rise up and kill intelligence officers, police officers, soldiers, and civilians” in the U.S., Canada, France, and Australia.” There is always a constant threat of attack as illustrated in Belgium. There is never a proper excuse for a security mistake with the enemy in your sights.
Whatever does take place, each incident worldwide serves as a flashpoint to a larger looming cultural conflict between Islamic extremism [expressed through isolation or violence] and the particular cultures of European and Western states.
France has been increasingly defiant in wake of the slayings last week with millions on the march and more prints of Mohammad in cartoons and around the Internet. This is extremely effective in unification and drawing a line in the sand to separate violent enemies from peaceful and tolerant friends. It will also tempt jihadists out of the shadows, depending on how much, in what manner, and how long this continues.
The European cultures that should expect to receive the least amount of Islamist violence are the most homogeneous and the states with the largest populations of Islamists, like France and Belgium will experience the most severe socio-cultural warfare in-state over time. Integrating Muslim enclave populations within Europe will not be easy but ignoring them completely could be even worse.
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