Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP): Attacks in Paris and Brussels stretch European security policies

Jenn Ohn, Contributing Writer

The attacks leading up to the recent violence in Belgium have made it clear that this war is not one that can be contained in the Middle East. The recent attack in its capital Brussels has confirmed fears that ISIS will shift its focus on attacks all across Europe and the United States. While ISIS has been carrying out attacks in the Middle East and gaining territory in Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq since 2014, the attacks in namely France, California, and Belgium have made clear that this is not a distant fight. The attention is now fixated on the rest of Europe and its readiness to combat the imminent threat of the Islamic State.

The question is why has the self-declared caliphate shifted its focus onto its European front, and the answer is not in their favor. The momentum ISIS experienced in gaining territory and followers in the Middle East has been changing. Both airstrikes and troops on the ground have collaboratively offset ISIS strategies. Airstrikes carried out by the United States have recently taken out their second in command Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, also said to have been Osama bin Laden’s right hand man. Other nations have joined the coalition. In the wake of Brussels, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has declared that they will join air strikes against the Islamic State. Importantly, the Syrian and Iraqi armies have been making large gains on the ground. ISIS has been driven out of the historic city of Palmyra by the Syrian army and the capital Raqqa is said to be next. With increased military pressure in their home base, global attacks are being encouraged now more than ever.

There were many gaps in information and security efforts in the events leading up to the Brussels attack. It was known that there is a dense network of radicalism in Belgium; however, the size and complexity of this terrorist cell is still unknown. Less than a week before the Brussels attack, Salah Abdeslam, the last known surviving suspect involved in the Paris attacks, was captured. More evidence has linked the two attacks. Moroccan-born Najim Laachraoui, the same person who made explosives used in both Brussels and Paris, is said to be one of the Brussels suicide bombers. Evidence of the information gap has surfaced in the case of Ibrahim El-Bakraoui, another one of the Brussels suicide bombers. In 2015, he was detained in Turkey when suspected to be a terrorist fighter; however, Belgian officials only found a history of petty crime and he was subsequently deported to the Netherlands.

These intelligence gaps are not a problem specific to Belgium, but they represent challenges faced by the whole of the European Union (EU). Brussels is the seat of the EU, and the ease of travel between nations by those flagged as terrorist suspects is due to the foundational openness of the EU. The major hurdles moving forward in European security policies lie in the infrastructure that allows for sharing of intelligence. Institutions set up to connect global intelligence have proved to be virtually unused. The EU counter-terrorism agency has been labeled as weak and ineffective. As a result, the responsibility lies in the member states for inter-border communication. This is also met with apprehension, as intelligence agencies do not have full confidence in each other.

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