Same Old Shit, Brussels Edition
The day after the mass bombings in Brussels that killed 34 people and wounded another 230, it emerged that Belgian authorities had specific forewarnings of the attack and had already last year identified the men who carried out the assault as Islamist terrorists.
The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported Wednesday that Zavantem Airport and the Maelbeek metro station were known to be targets for planned terror attacks. It wrote, “The Belgian security services, as well as other Western intelligence agencies, had advance and precise intelligence warnings regarding the terrorist attacks in Belgium on Tuesday, Ha'aretz has learned. The security services knew, with a high degree of certainty, that attacks were planned in the very near future for the airport and, apparently, for the subway as well.”
The suspected attackers were well known to police authorities. Two of the suicide bombers, Khalid El Bakraoui, who attacked the metro station, and his brother Ibrahim El Bakraoui, who exploded a bomb at the airport, had been convicted of armed robbery and were known to have connections to the November 13 attacks in Paris carried out by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Both were identified post-mortem by their fingerprints.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Ibrahim El Bakraoui had been detained in Turkey and identified as an Islamist fighter, then deported to the Netherlands last year.
“One of the perpetrators of the Brussels attack is a person whom we detained in June 2015 in [the southeastern province of] Gaziantep and deported… We informed the Brussels Embassy of the deportation process of the attacker with a note on July 14, 2015. However, the Belgians released the attacker despite his deportation,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan added that Belgian authorities were unable to establish any ties between El Bakraoui and terrorist activity despite the Turkish warnings, which were “ignored.”
Another bomber who blew himself up at the airport has still to be identified, and the third airport attacker, identified as Najim Laachraoui, remains on the run. Belgian authorities said they were looking for a man of Turkish origin, 22 years old, driving an old, dark Audi A4 car.
These reports raise the most serious questions as to how and why Belgian and allied intelligence agencies allowed the Brussels bombings to occur.
In the fifteenth year of the “war on terror” declared by Washington and its European allies after the September 11, 2001 bombings, intelligence agencies have at their disposal sophisticated spying techniques capable of tracking virtually all cell phone and Internet activity. Claims that the attack occurred because Belgian and allied intelligence agencies somehow failed to “connect the dots” are simply not believable.
Belgium has been on high alert. Large numbers of soldiers and police were deployed in Brussels when the city was placed on lockdown following the November 13 attacks in Paris, and again after last week’s capture of November 13 attacker Salah Abdeslam. Belgian forces had advance notice of the targets of an attack and the identity of the attackers. Nonetheless, the ISIS team was able to amass a large stock of bomb-making equipment undisturbed and plan, prepare and execute devastating and coordinated terror bombings.
During the first lockdown, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, 16 people were arrested and 22 searches were made, which produced nothing. All the while, Abdeslam was living a few kilometers from his parents’ home.
Abdeslam’s capture in last week’s police raid apparently pushed the ISIS terrorists to put their plans into action. Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s laptop was found in a dustbin in the street. On it police found a recording of Bakraoui saying he was “acting in a rush” and “did not [know] what to do anymore,” as he was being “searched for everywhere and was no longer safe.” If “he stuck around” he was likely “to end up in a prison cell.”
Police located El Bakraoui’s apartment by speaking to the taxi driver who dropped off the attackers at Zavantem airport. He told police he picked them up from 4 rue Max Roos in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels. Police searched the apartment and found 15 kilos of explosives, 150 litres of acetone, 30 litres of hydrogen peroxide, detonators, a case full of nails and screws and other bomb-making materials.
There are as yet no calls for mass sackings in Belgian and European intelligence circles after this stunning breakdown of security. The reason is that powerful factions within the ruling elite and the state, far from being genuinely revolted by these attacks, view them as a political godsend, allowing them to press for policies on which there is broad agreement in ruling circles: stepped-up military intervention in the Middle East, police-state surveillance measures in Europe and incitement of anti-Muslim racism.
New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen published articles yesterday that in virtually identical terms argued for an escalation of the war in Syria, ostensibly to fight ISIS. Cohen declared that “the West’s ponderous wait-them-out approach to the murderous fanatics of the caliphate looks like capitulation,” while Friedman asked whether “Obama hasn’t gotten so obsessed with defending his hands-off approach to Syria that he underestimates both the dangers of his passivity and the opportunity for US power to tilt the region our way.”