Threat of a Dirty Nuclear Bomb in Europe Cannot be Taken Lightly
The daring terrorist attack executed with clinical precision at the airport and the metro during peak rush hour in Brussels on March 22 has sent shock waves in Europe requiring re calibrating and upgrading security measures not just in Belgium but all of interconnected Europe. Ever since one of the main suspects of the Paris carnage Salah Abdeslam, who was preparing for more attacks in Europe, was arrested in Brussels recently after a hunt lasting four months, the threat became imminent. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel’s expressed their helplessness in no uncertain terms by emphasizing “”what we feared has happened”” thereby acknowledging the failure of the intelligence and security establishments. The terrorists have not just sent a strong message to Belgium but the entire European establishment.
The Islamic State (IS) which has claimed responsibility is making the point that it cannot be wished away or cowed down despite being bombed by Western powers in its den in Syria. One of the reasons for these attacks in faraway locations in that the group is facing military setbacks in and around the so called ‘caliphate’ the seat of its influence. For Europe, the chinks in its armor have to be bridged urgently. All countries including India must step up the vigil. No country can afford to be terror stricken especially as questions have been raised if terrorism has managed to get an upper hand especially in Europe. Ibrahim El Bakraaoui, the suicide bomber who killed 11 people at the airport was apprehended by Turkish authorities last summer just a few miles from the border with ISIS heartland in Syria. Police returned El Bakraaoui to Europe and warned he was a known extremist who posed a terror threat in his home country of Belgium.
However, officials in the Netherlands and Belgium let him walk free saying there was no evidence that he had committed a crime. Europe has also to consider the idea of a border-less continent and whether such a proposition can provide adequate security from terrorists being able to travel back and forth freely. The significance of striking at the headquarters of the European Union cannot be overlooked. The demand for stronger borders is bound to arise in the wake of this terrorist attack. The heightened search for jihadists has led to the arrest of seven persons — six in Belgium and one in France. What is alarming is that there is a serious assimilation problem with the refugees in Europe especially in Belgium which has the maximum number of 500 IS operatives and sympathizers compared to all the other countries in Europe.
Recent attacks in Europe shows that indoctrinated local youth have been carrying out these attacks. Europe has to find ways of stopping its youth from getting radicalized. There have been voices in Belgium underlining the need to effectively silence these elements spreading terror so that people can pursue their normal life. At the same time terrorists are increasingly picking soft targets at crowded places for maximum impact globally. It wants to create panic in societies known for their democratic and pluralistic values. The growing perception is that the IS has declared war on civilization. Ordinary believers of Islam have become as much victims of terror as others who are followers of different faiths. If the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria are tormenting much of West Asia, it is al Shabab and other affiliates of Al Qaeda which are attacking the innocent at regular intervals in large parts of Africa.
Even though the United States has not seen a major terrorist attack since 9/11, it has managed to foil a number of similar plots. The main conspirators of last November’s attacks in Paris were holed up in Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. The migrant crisis has compounded the problems for the Europeans. Statistics reveal that Belgium has the maximum number of 500 young people owing allegiance to the IS compared to any other country in Europe. It has been widely suggested that there may have been five terrorists in Brussels and that Abdesalam’s arrest some days back might have foiled strikes on the Belgian nuclear plants which would have been catastrophic. It has become apparent that Belgian authorities missed the signals of the diabolical plans of the terrorists. They are getting irritated and frustrated with others finding fault with them.
Investigators must remain calm rather than getting provoked. The authorities in Brussels have disclosed that it might take them weeks before verifying the DNA samples taken from tiny body parts of the suicide bombers. This means that families from around the world have a long and agonizing wait to know if their loved ones are among the dead. Terrorists despise the very freedoms that Europeans enjoy because in their wildest dreams they cannot imagine a society in West Asia which is open, progressive and multicultural. In the carnage in Brussels 30 people died and nearly 300 people were injured. What is of concern is that Europe is already fractured by debates over immigration and race.
At the same time security services have not been able to track and apprehend those terrorists whose identity as being the perpetrators of the Brussels attack was already known. Intelligence experts contend that greater intelligence sharing among European allies would have offset this perceived advantage to terrorists of the free movement rule. The specific aspect of intelligence sharing might come up at a special meeting of EU ministers to discuss the fallout of the Brussels blasts. Despite all this there is also the inherent problem that intelligence is usually never shared fully. Under the circumstances can real time intelligence sharing without holding back anything have saved precious lives and foiled the terrorist attack. India could lose much as it has a significant presence of its diaspora in West Asia which has the portends of threatening its energy security and business interests.Nevertheless, the offensive against the IS with Russian assistance has enabled the Syrian army to take control of Palmyra captured by the terror group last year. Paris and now Brussels has revealed what the IS can do. International powers and those fighting the scourge of terrorism must come together to defeat the threat of peace and stability in the region. There is also a dirty nuclear angle to this which cannot be ignored. Coordinated action against the IS has become imperative to restore the territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria.
(The writer is a senior journalist and commentator. Views are personal)“