(New York, NY) – The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) today released new resources on incidents of extremism in Belgium as well as Belgian counter-extremism efforts in the aftermath of operations against members of a group allegedly preparing to launch "terrorist attacks on a grand scale.” About a dozen counter-terrorism raids against the group were carried out in Verviers, in eastern Belgium.
The raid came one day after Belgian police arrested a man on suspicion of selling weapons to Amédy Coulibaly, the French gunman who allegedly killed a French police officer before besieging a kosher grocery store in Paris, killing four. In a video posted online, Coulibaly pledged allegiance to ISIS, and claimed to have coordinated attacks with the Kouachi brothers, who killed 12 in the January 7 Charlie Hebdo attack.
The raid in Verviers comes as Belgium is in the midst of its biggest Islamic extremist trial to date, with 46 members of the group Sharia4Islam accused of recruiting for terrorism, and facilitating the travel of Belgian foreign fighters to terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria.
Brussels: Extremism and Counter Extremism: chronicles the background and details of today’s events: the radicalization of foreign fighters; a history of major Belgian extremist and terrorist incidents; domestic counter extremism; Belgian international counter-extremism; and legislative efforts to combat extremism.
- According to September 2014 statistics from Belgium’s Ministry of Interior, between 300 and 350 Belgians have fought with militants in Iraq and Syria since 2012. (Source: Le Soir) In January 2015, Belgian newspaper Le Soir reported that 10 Belgian foreign fighters travel to Iraq and Syria each month. According to Le Soir, 184 Belgian nationals were fighting with ISIS and the Nusra Front as of December 2014, while 100 foreign fighters had already returned to Belgium. (Source: Le Soir) As of August 2014, Belgium produced the most foreign fighters per capita in Europe. (Source: Economist)
- Belgium suffered its highest profile terrorist attack in May 2014, when French national and ISIS fighter Mehdi Nemmouche murdered four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. The attack had a major impact on Belgium, spurring new debate on the threat of Islamic extremism, and returning foreign fighters.
- According to a Belgian government official, returning foreign fighters are treated to “particular attention” from the government. Former Interior Minister Joelle Milquet explained that there is usually an arrest or follow-up on the suspect. If there is no open criminal record, the suspected foreign fighter is often followed by the local intelligence service or police. (Source: Le Soir) According to Belgian officials, the targets of the January 15, 2015 raid in Verviers were under government surveillance after returning from Syria. (Source: Guardian)
- In 2013, the government started radicalization-prevention programs to address the rising trend of foreign fighters. The efficacy of these programs is dubious. According to an adviser to the Belgian government on radicalization, “The preventive proposals were not well thought through.” (Source: Wall Street Journal)
- Belgium contributes soldiers and materiel to various U.N., EU and coalition-led operations. It is engaged in the international fight against ISIS and, under EU missions, has deployed soldiers to Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For years, Belgium participated in the ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan. In mid-December 2014, Belgium completed an eight-year peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
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About The Counter Extremism Project (CEP)
The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideology. Led by a renowned group of former world leaders and former diplomats it will aim to combat extremism by pressuring financial support networks, countering the narrative of extremists and their online recruitment, and advocating for strong laws, policies and regulations.