By Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
1 April 2016
Media outlets have recently circulated footage of right-wing protests in Europe, which is in a state of war amid attacks and threats against it that have changed perceptions of identity, coexistence and integration.
Belgium, which throughout its history has been an example of ethnic coexistence, was ferociously attacked last week. It is one of the countries that hosted the biggest number of refugees from North Africa and Turkey. Its constitution is fair to Muslims, and it has set many laws to facilitate their lives there. Nonetheless, Belgium - a symbol of European diversity, and host to major institutions such as the EU and NATO - was struck in the heart.
History of Terror
Since the mid-1990s, fundamentalist groups from other countries began to take root in Belgium. Meanwhile, following the U.S. war on Iraq in 2003, the transformation that Al-Qaeda wanted was represented in the domination over fighting groups in the Arab Maghreb.
The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat managed to revive trust with Al-Qaeda following the misunderstanding between the latter’s late leader Osama bin Laden and the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria during his stay in Khartoum, particularly in 1994 after the group’s leader Djamel Zitouni refused to participate in the war against the Algerian regime.
The terrorist attacks against Belgium represent a culmination of two decades of arrangements and deals between armed groups whose presence extends from Afghanistan to the Maghreb.
Back then, Zitouni had recruited 3,000 fighters. Bin Laden took this into consideration as he had failed to mobilize as many fighters for Al-Qaeda at the time. After the group submitted to Al-Qaeda in the summer of 1998, bin Laden changed its name to the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, and integration began with the famous negotiations between Hassan Hattab and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The rapprochement formed the basis for uniting several organizations under the name Al-Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb. All this fundamentalism that had been circulating since the 1990s until 2009 found its way to Europe, with Belgium being used as a launch pad for activities in other countries. An example is the Tarek Maaroufi cell, which assassinated Afghan political and military leader Ahmad Shah Massoud on Sept. 9, 2001.
Al-Qaeda embraced sympathetic students, and gained influence in communities that it considered potential providers of sleeper cells. With the onset of the Syrian crisis, there was contradictory data regarding the number of Belgians belonging to groups there, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front. Belonging to these groups, and fighters’ return to their countries, contributed to recruiting and mobilizing more people.
The Paris attacks in 2015 and the recent Brussels attacks expose a different dimension to terrorism, linked to crime, drugs and sex. Paris-attack suspect Salah Abdeslam was a thief who drank alcohol and was addicted to hash, according to his sister in law. One of those involved even owned a pub.
This transformation has complicated the work of security institutions, and resulted in a wave of criticism against Belgian intelligence. The attacks in Belgium marked an ISIS victory that threatens other European countries, and perhaps even the United States.
The Syrian conflict influenced the planning of the terrorist attacks against Belgium. However, they represent a culmination of two decades of arrangements and deals between armed groups whose presence extends from Afghanistan and Chechnya, through Iraq to their biggest operation base in the Maghreb.
Perhaps this is only the beginning of the war, as French President Francois Hollande said. Sixteen years ago, what happened in Kabul began from Brussels. The situation is now more dangerous as terrorist groups are more powerful.
The night before he was killed, Massoud had an appointment with Belgian journalists. Prior to the meeting, his friend Massoud Khalili read out to him as usual the poetry of Hafez Shirazi. They had a habit of randomly choosing a page from a book of a collection of Shirazi’s poetry.
Khalili read: “Enjoy this night which we will spend together. Days pass by, months go by and years come to an end, and you will never get to live this night again.” Nine hours later, Massoud’s brain was scattered on the carpet after an Arab-Belgian man set off explosives hidden in a camera.