The Brussels Bombing Reveals a Larger Picture this Week.
On Tuesday March 22, terrorists bombed the Brussels Airport in Zaventem and Maalbeek metro station. Here are the developments and intelligence that has been released in the days since:
- The terror attacks at the airport and metro station came four days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a key orchestrator of the Paris attacks in November. Interrogations and subsequent raids reveal Abdeslam was planning a multiple shooting and suicide bomb attack in Brussels over Easter. A raid at a safe house in Schaerbeek revealed Abdeslam’s fingerprints were among the bomb making materials seized by investigators. The current working theory by intelligence sources is that the perpetrators of the Brussels attack moved up their timeline, feeling authorities would uncover their original plot.
- On Friday March 25th police shot a man carrying a bomb in a backpack after he took a woman hostage at a Brussels tram station. The man, identified only as Abderamane A., was shot in the leg and remains in police custody. He has been charged with ‘involvement in a terror group.’ Abderamane A. was convicted in 2003 as an accomplice in the assassination of famed Afghan political and military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud (who opposed Taliban rule) two years earlier.
- In the raids following the Paris attack in November, investigators have learned that the terror cell responsible for that attack were also targeting a nuclear facility. Investigators discovered more than 12 hours of video surveillance footage of the director of Belgium’s nuclear research and development program. The el-Bakraoui brothers (who killed themselves in the suicide attacks at the airport and metro station) had hidden a camera in the bushes outside of the director’s home. The video footage was found in December raids, but not made public until February 17, when prosecutors confirmed its existence, though they had not yet uncovered the identity of those responsible for the footage until after the Brussels attack.
- Eleven workers at the Tihange nuclear power plant in Belgium have had their access revoked after vetting by security and intelligence agencies.
- Over the weekend, the body of Didier Prospero, who was employed by G4S security at a Belgium nuclear research center was discovered shot to death (along with his dog) in the bathroom of his home.
- In the wake of these discoveries, authorities are re-examining the cases of two workers from the Doel nuclear power plant in Belgium who fled to Syria in 2014 to join ISIS. Belgian security services fear that the two men, who had extensive understanding of the facilities, may have passed on important details about the sites to the terrorist group.
- It remains unclear if the terrorists planned to attack a power plant or gain access in order to steal the materials necessary to create a dirty bomb. These concerns are particularly dangerous in a country with a history of security lapses at its nuclear facilities (google sabotage at Dorel 4 and nuclear agency hack), a weak intelligence community (many major errors committed in this investigation alone), and a large population of militant Islamists (Brussels community Molenbeek had been nicknamed Europe’s Jihadi Central as it has been connected to most major attacks over the last decade).
- The AP reported on Friday April 25 that ISIS has sent over 400 fighters to target Europe in ‘deadly waves of attacks’ deploying interlocking cells with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage. Some French intelligence sources claim this number could be much larger, given the rough count of 5000 European passport holders have left the continent to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
- The ongoing raids being carried out across Europe have revealed more intelligence. The only known Paris terrorist still at large, Mohamed Abrini, 31, traveled to England just four months prior to the November attacks and took multiple pictures of a soccer stadium. The ease with which he was able to slip in and out of the UK to take potential reconnaissance photographs has alarmed security services and raised additional concerns regarding his contacts in Britain. Abrini is the second member of the Paris terror cell to have traveled to England. The primary orchestrator of the attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud also traveled to London and Birmingham in the months prior to the attack.
- MI5 revealed it is tracking more than 50 people (among a reported 450 extremists living in the UK) who are thought to be planning attacks in on the country.
This appears to be the beginning of a new reality of European life. And Europe is a particularly vulnerable target for a variety of reasons. The open border policy of the EU allows people to move about freely and unchecked within EU member nations. This makes tracking terrorists particularly difficult. It also creates a situation in which many different security services must work effectively together to protect the continent, despite speaking different languages and relying on different databases. This fragile intelligence apparatus combined with years of mass migration and an unarmed citizenry make the continent a target rich environment.
All of this news should not overshadow the terror attacks that occur with surprising frequency outside ‘the west’ but often get little more than a mention in the news. Over the weekend violence at the hands of ISIS occurred throughout the Middle East.
- On Easter Sunday a suicide bombing in a park in the eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan killed 70 people and injured approximately 300. The suicide bomber has been identified as Mohammed Yusuf, a known militant recruiter. Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the breakaway Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which has sworn allegiance to ISIS, told The Associated Press late Sunday that the suicide bomber deliberately targeted Christians celebrating Easter in the park.
- Suicide attackers stormed one of the biggest army bases in Iraq Saturday March 27 and killed at least 18 soldiers, according to a military source. The attack came a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a soccer stadium in Iskandariya, south of the capital Baghdad, killing at least 30 people and injuring 95 others. ISIS has claimed responsibility for both attacks.
- ISIS crucified a Catholic priest on Good Friday. The priest, Father Thomas Uzhunnalil, 56, was kidnapped by ISIS gunmen in Yemen when they attacked an old people’s home operated by Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Four nuns, three staff members and eight elderly residents were also killed.