News / Europe

    EU Focuses on Security Measures After Brussels Attacks

    EU Emergency Meeting Focuses on Security Measures After Brussels Attacksi
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    Heather Murdock
    March 24, 2016 4:25 PM
    The European Union is hosting an emergency meeting Thursday in Brussels to try to stave off another terrorist attack, as investigators draw links between the 2015 Paris attacks and Tuesday’s bombing in Brussels that killed 31 people and injured 300. VOA’s Heather Murdock has more from the Belgian capital.
    WATCH: Heather Murdock reports from Brussels
    Lisa Bryant

    European Union justice and security ministers hold talks in Brussels Thursday on ways to shore up intelligence and security, as police search for yet another suspect in the attacks in the Belgian capital that killed at least 31 people and wounded 300 others.

    Police have launched a manhunt for a second man who appears involved in the suicide bombing at Maelbeek metro station Tuesday morning, Belgian media report.  Authorities earlier identified Khalid El Bakraoui as the assailant in the metro attack that killed 20 people and injured scores more.

    But video surveillance at the Maelbeek station showed a second man walking with El Bakraoui carrying a large bag, Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper reported, citing police confirmation.

    El Bakraoui’s brother Ibrahim has been formally identified as one of the two suicide bombers in the airport attacks that occurred the same morning. Media have identified the second bomber as Najim Laachraoui, a bombmaker for Islamic State, who is considered a key accomplice in the November Paris attacks.

    A third man, captured in airport video pushing a trolley with the two suicide bombers, remains at large.

    Photo released by Belgian federal police on demand of Federal prosecutor shows screengrab of airport CCTV camera showing suspects of this morning's attacks at Brussels Airport, in Zaventem, March 22, 2016.
    Photo released by Belgian federal police on demand of Federal prosecutor shows screengrab of airport CCTV camera showing suspects of this morning's attacks at Brussels Airport, in Zaventem, March 22, 2016.

    Islamic State claims responsibility

    The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Brussels attacks, as it did for the Paris attacks in November.

    Indeed, mounting evidence points to increasingly closer links between the Brussels and Paris terrorist strikes, raising questions about lapses in cross-border intelligence and security cooperation.

    Those questions will be at the forefront of the EU meeting Thursday afternoon.

    “We need to have a union of security,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at a news conference in Brussels Wednesday, urging member states to adopt the Commissions proposals on tighter external border controls and measures to make it more difficult to acquire firearms within the EU.

    Visa-free system

    Europe’s visa-free Schengen system, already threatened by the migrant influx, is also under fresh scrutiny.

    Much of the attention centers on Belgium, as authorities here are increasingly pressured to explain how a terrorist network apparently managed to plot and carry out two attacks — in Paris and Brussels — within months.

    Turkish authorities said Wednesday they had caught Ibrahim El Bakraoui in 2013 at the Syrian border and deported him to the Netherlands.

    “Despite our warnings that this person was a foreign terrorist fighter, the Belgian authorities could not identify a link to terrorism,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Wednesday.

    In this image made available March 24, 2016 by Haberturk newspaper, Ibrahim El Bakraoui is pictured in a July 2015 image taken by Gaziantep police.
    In this image made available March 24, 2016 by Haberturk newspaper, Ibrahim El Bakraoui is pictured in a July 2015 image taken by Gaziantep police.

    For their part, Belgian authorities say the El Bakraoui brothers were primarily known as criminals who spent time in prison.

    Not everyone is pointing fingers.

    “Who is at fault in the area of terrorism?” EU Commission President Juncker asked in an interview with Le Soir. “Let’s not start criticizing Belgium. I don’t share this scorn.”

    Attack 'almost inevitable'

    Michael Hayden, former director of the U.S. National Security Agency, told VOA the attack was "almost inevitable."

    "I realize that's a pretty dramatic word," Hayden said. "But if you look at what has happened...the soft targets, the transportation targets, the maximum civilian casualties, (it's) something we could see."

    Hayden also said it is "certainly not the last" attack Islamic State will carry out, saying the group has a "network that seems to be active and thriving in the heart of Europe."

    The retired four-star general, who also headed up the CIA, said European intelligence and security agencies could do a better job at sharing information.

    Counter-terrorism expert Thomas Reynard, of the Brussels-based Egmont Institute, believes cooperation between French and Belgian police is often underestimated.

    “It’s not like we just started cooperation,” he said. “Obviously cooperation between police, between intelligence services anywhere in the world — including often within one single country — is also difficult.”

    “So is this a case of perfect cooperation - definitely not,” he added. “But what’s important is these remain hiccups rather than a major lack of cooperation.”

    Cross-border cooperation

    The attacks also point to good cross-border cooperation among the assailants.

    A case in point is Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris attacks who was caught in a Brussels police raid last week.

    On Thursday, his lawyer Sven Mary said he wanted to be transferred to France “rapidly.” Mary also told the French News Agency his client “was not aware” that the Brussels attacks were being plotted.

    Yet last week, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Didier Reynders said Abdeslam told investigators he had been “ready to restart something” in Brussels. Moreover, evidence points to ties between Abdeslam and the Brussels assailants.

    Abdeslam and suicide bomber Laachraoui were spotted last September at the the Austria-Hungarian border, driving in a rented Mercedes with a third suspect, Mohamed Belkaid, who was killed during last week’s police raid in the Brussels neighborhood of Forest.

    Many other suspects in the Paris and Brussels terrorists attacks also appear united by tangled bonds of childhood friendships, family ties or shared prison terms.

    Both attackers included pairs of brothers, underscoring yet another pattern among jihadi fighters, experts say. Salah Abdeslam’s brother Brahim was among the Paris suicide bombers, while the two El Bakraoui brothers both blew themselves up in the Paris attacks.

    Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde attend a commemoration ceremony at the Belgian parliament for victims of Tuesday's bombing attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016.
    Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde attend a commemoration ceremony at the Belgian parliament for victims of Tuesday's bombing attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016.

    Belgians mourn victims

    Meanwhile, the country remains in mourning for the victims of the Brussels attacks. Flags are at half-staff, and another moment of silence was to be held Thursday afternoon for the victims.

    At the Place de la Bourse, in downtown Brussels, a steady stream of visitors arrived to place candles and flowers at a makeshift shrine. Hundreds gathered for a second consecutive night on Wednesday to sing and post messages of peace and Belgian pride.

    “I came came here to show I wasn’t afraid,” said 85-year-old Nicole Olyff who wandered around the square. “And I’m happy to see there are still tourists in Brussels and so many people coming here.”

    • A woman draws a heart with her lipstick on the ground at a makeshift vigil near the Mealbeek metro station in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)
    • A placard outside one of the entrances to the Maelbeek metro station asks ‘why’ while other writing expresses calls for both peace and anger in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)
    • Woman draped in Belgian flag places memento at makeshift memorial in honor of terror bombing victims in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2016. (N. Pourebrahim / VOA )
    • People observe a minute of silence at a street memorial to victims of Tuesday's bombings in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016.
    • Sign at makeshift memorial for terror bombing victims reads in French: "Belgium will remain standing", Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2016. (N. Pourebrahim / VOA)
    • People observe a minute of silence at a street memorial to victims of Tuesdays's bombings in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016.
    • Police patrol outside the Moelenbeek metro station in Brussels, March 24, 2016. (L. Bryant/VOA)
    • Bystanders look at the flowers and candles set out as a memorial outside the Moelenbeek metro station in Brussels, March 24, 2016. (L. Bryant/VOA)
    • Messages are left outside the Moelenbeek metro station in Brussels, March 24, 2016. (L. Bryant/VOA)
    • Three balloons in the colors of the Belgian flag fly as people mourn for the victims of the bombings at the Place de la Bourse in the center of Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016.
    • Outside Brussels’ central train station, commuters hurry toward their homes as the military guards the area, March 24, 2016. (H. Murdock/VOA)
    • A man leaves a message on the sidewalk outside the Moelenbeek metro station in Brussels, March 24, 2016. (L. Bryant/VOA)
    • Belgian King Philippe and Queen Mathilde attend a commemoration ceremony at the Belgian parliament for victims of Tuesday's bombing attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2016.
    • As night falls in Brussels, Belgium crews arrive to assess and clear the damage to the Maelbeek metro station, one of two targets in the Tuesday attack that killed 31 people and injured 300, many of whom remain in intensive care, March 24, 2016. (H. Murdo

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Daniel from: Seattle
    March 24, 2016 2:18 PM
    If the outcome of a policy is violence, then this invalidates the policy. Violence as an outcome of policy should be regarded as a catastrophic failure of policy. Whether we're talking about bomb attacks, the sexual predation of European women in the streets of their own cities or the reciprocal violence against immigrants in response to these attacks....these events are the outcomes of European immigration policy. The observable violence invalidates European immigration policy, which is clearly in a state of catastrophic failure.

    by: bill
    March 24, 2016 1:26 PM
    Terrorism is like a complicated network. you can not defeat them by just fighting with one of them. There are several terrorist groups in middle east some of them are dormant and others are now active, like ISIL, Alqade, government of Islamic republic of Iran, Hezbollah , Hamas, Bashar Asad and also turkey's government.

    by: Bird from: US
    March 24, 2016 10:28 AM
    Belgium probably thought he was a PKK terrorist and let him go free as they do all other PKK terrorists wanted by Turkey. EU's lack of respect to Turkey has backfired. At least Turkey takes a principled stance against all terrorist groups - as evident by repeated deportation of foreign ISIS fighters. Compare and contrast with Europe which has been a safe haven for PKK terrorists for years now and only fights ISIS.

    VOA - please for once do the right thing and publish comments critical of the West. You speak about freedom of expression but you cannot yourselves respect it.

    by: Plain and simple
    March 24, 2016 9:26 AM
    US created a monster called Osama to defeat Soviet Union. later, It suffered from the same. Now, US created ruthless jihadist groups in Syria to fight Assad. Now, it is suffering from the same jihadist groups. Why repeat the same mistake again and again? in the past, US used ruthless jihadists to defeat Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Now, US is trying to do the same in Syria to overthrow Assad.

    Any group that takes up arms to achieve its political objective must be labelled as a terrorist group. But, US is calling such ruthless jihadist groups as "moderate forces" in Syria. such deadly armed groups must not be labelled as moderate, insurgents or freedom fighters. They must not be branded as moderate or extremist. Because,

    All of them are terrorists in nature. jihadists are no good for US even if they claim to be pro-American. Foolish American foreign policy that arms and supports angry people in middle east to fight their government has only helped terrorists and jihadists. it only caused chaos and mayhem. Nothing else.
    In Response

    by: annmous from: usa
    March 24, 2016 10:42 AM
    I agree with you 100%. we try to solve a problem by creating another problem . and it seems to me that no body is admitting such mistake then we continue the same mistake again and again .

    by: meanbill from: USA
    March 24, 2016 9:23 AM
    Remember that the terrorists always attack where the enemy is weakest and unprepared, and withdraws when reinforcements arrive, to regroup and attack the next weakest and unprepared enemy target? .. Guerilla warfare? .. These tactics and strategies are used by all the terrorists worldwide? .. The Sunni Muslim Caliph al-Baghdadi of the ISIL Caliphate, has issued a call to arms for all the faithful Sunni Muslims to defend the faith and Ummah, and they are rallying around his call to arms? .. The terrorists aren't being radicalized, [but instead], are defending the ISIL Caliphate, the faith, and Ummah?

    by: annymous from: usa
    March 24, 2016 8:49 AM
    What is the strategy that work? obviously we are dealing with ideology rather than individual. we are dealing with ideology since 9/11 and our strategy is not working and it is getting worst because we have such as liberal such as Obama and Hilary Clinton. both refuse to admit the fact that we are dealing with ideology .

    Clinton and Obama had made the worst mistake in foreign policy. involve Us in Libya was a mistake. Involve and support Muslim brotherhood the terrorist organization in Egypt was mistake. involvement in Syria was a mistake and involvement in Afghisstan was a mistake . these mistake has an impact of terrorist. terrorist are out of control the worst has yet to come .

    We have to change the approach and dealing with that ideology with fist of iron Gorge w bush did it . we need gorge w bush back in the white house and show them how to deal with this ideology
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    March 24, 2016 4:22 PM
    The only real way to defeat and destroy the Sunni Muslim ISIL terrorists is by killing the Sunni Muslim ISIL Caliph al-Baghdadi (like Hulagu Khan did) when he ended the reign of the last Caliph of Baghdad and brought an end the his Caliphate? .. By killing the Sunni Muslim ISIL Caliph al-Baghdadi, it would release most probably millions of Sunni Muslims that gave Bay'ah (the oath of allegiance) to al-Baghdadi willingly or unwillingly, to submit to him, obey him, and not make war on him as long as it does not violate the laws of Allah?

    The killing of the Sunni Muslim ISIL Caliph al-Baghdadi would stop these individual Sunni Muslims from answering the worldwide call to arms by the ISIL Caliph al-Baghdadi in defense of the faith and Ummah? .. That's what makes the ISIL terrorists unique, (they aren't being radicalized), they have voluntarily pledged Bay'ah (the oath of allegiance) to the ISIL Caliph al-Baghdadi and his ISIL Caliphate? .. Killing the Sunni Muslim ISIL Caliph al-Baghdadi would end his reign, and bring and end to his ISIL Caliphate? .. (Guaranteed?) .. Nobody can replace him? .. Guaranteed?

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