The Brussels Attacks What Do We Know?

MAR 23,2016

Putting things in context: Terrorism in Belgium

On Tuesday, 22 March 2016, Belgium witnessed the worst terrorist attack carried out on its soil. While the full identity of the attackers is still under investigation, Belgium has a history of being the victim of both international and homegrown terrorism.

Belgium is the strategic and diplomatic hub of Europe – home to both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters. Its important stature makes the country a figurehead of European and Western values, and therefore a high-value target on both a practical and a symbolic level. An example of this was seen in December 2008 when Belgian security forces carried out raids in Brussels and Liege, arresting fourteen individuals, for a suicide bombing plot against a major European summit and for being members of Al-Qaeda. Four members of the cell were Belgian citizens. Malika El Aroud and Moez Garsallaoui, two well-known radicals in Belgium, recruited the cell. The cell was not only recruited by Belgians, but had members of the cell that were Belgian citizens. If successful the cell could have carried out a mass casualty attack on Belgian soil, against their own country.[1]

The opening of borders between European Union countries has led to increased freedom of movement, which has in turn led to a rise in transnational crime and terrorist activities. Countries in Europe can no longer be solely concerned with their own vulnerabilities, but must also be mindful of the threats posed by operatives who may enter from the surrounding region. High levels of cross-border communication and intelligence-gathering are now crucial to prevent the further perpetration of atrocities on Belgian soil.

In addition, Belgium has the highest number per capita of foreign fighters of any European or Western country. In raw numbers, Belgium has the fourth highest number of foreign fighters in the European Union (estimates range between 450 and 550), behind France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Belgium has also witnessed several terrorist attacks on its soil, as well as seen a number of Belgian citizens involved in terrorist acts in other parts of Europe. As such, it is clear that there exists in Belgium terrorist infrastructure affiliated with Global Jihadi ideology.

Overview of the Attacks
On Tuesday, 22 March 2016, Brussels witnessed two terrorist attacks on its soil; the first attack was carried out at the Brussels Airport, while the second attack hit the Maelbeek subway station, in the European neighborhood of Brussels. The combined attacks killed at least 30 people and injured hundreds.

At 08:12 two explosions hit the #3 and #11 check-in zones of Terminal 3 at Zaventem Airport in Brussels, Belgium. Two suicide bombers, brothers Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui, detonated their suitcase bombs causing two explosions. According to medical officials, at least 14 people were killed and 106 were injured from the explosions. Like in many suicide attacks, screws were added to the explosive devices to increase the number of fatalities. According to the Belgium prosecutors office, an AK-47 and an unexploded suicide belt were found in close proximity to the attacks. A third individual was seen with the bombers and Belgian authorities are currently looking for him.

At 09:24, a single suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt inside a train car at the Maelbeek subway station, in close proximity to the Parliament of the European Union. According to Belgian officials, more than 20 people were killed and 130 were injured.

According to Belgian media, the two perpetrators of the Zaventem attack were two brothers, Khalid and Brahim El Bakraoui. At least one of them was known for connections to terrorism. The El Bakraoui brothers escaped an apartment in the Forest neighborhood of Brussels a few days prior during a police Raid. Police forces were searching for them for at least a week. In October 2010, Brahim El Bakraoui was charged for shooting policemen with an AK-47.[3]

In terms of the explosives, it has been reported that Triacetone Triperoxide was likely used in the attacks.[4] Triacetone Triperoxide, or TATP, is a highly unstable primary explosive, usually used as a detonator. It should be noted that the use of TATP was discussed on top-tier Jihadi forums, such asShumukh al-Islam, including instructions on how produce and store it.[5]

ISIS released written statements in French and Arabic claiming responsibility for the twin attacks at Brussels Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station titled, Statement on the Blessed Raid in Brussels against Crusader Belgium.

A number of soldiers from the Caliphate carrying explosive belts, bombs and automatic weapons, and targeting locations chosen with precision in the Belgium capital, Brussels entered Zaventem Airport of Brussels and a subway station in order to kill a high number of crusaders. They then detonated their explosive vests in the middle of a crowd. The outcome of the attacks was 40 dead people and no less than 210 injured people.

ISIS further threatened of darker days against the “crusader countries” which are allied against the Islamic State.

While the identity of the attackers is yet to be officially revealed, Belgian press released a picture of the three suspects of the Zaventem Airport attacks.

While two of the attackers of the airport bombing are presumed dead, several hours after the attack, Belgian police began a manhunt for the third suspect from the airport attack.

Governmental Response
Due to the attacks, all public transportations in and around Brussels was halted until 16:00. Police evacuated universities and schools, while workers in office building were ordered to remain in-doors. Air traffic was diverted from Brussels Zaventem Airport to other airports in Europe and Belgium, including Charleroi, Liége and Oostende. Several airports throughout Europe were placed on high alert.

Belgium raised its terrorist level to the highest level, four (out of a scale of four) and the European Union raised the alert level to Orange, which is the highest level. Belgiums nuclear power plants were placed on high alert and all non-essential staff evacuated.

A number of police searches are currently underway in Brussels, and in a raid on an apartment in the Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek, police found an ISIS flag, chemicals, and an explosive device.

In addition, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel confirmed an increase in military patrols around Brussels and tighter border control.