Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Multicultural Brussels area a hotbed of Islamist extremism

Brussels' Molenbeek area, long infamous in Belgium's capital city for its crime and unemployment, has emerged once again as a European hotbed of Islamist extremism where residents say they live in fear.

As police blocked off a main street in the largely Muslim area on Monday in the latest of many raids since it was learned that at least one of the Paris attackers had lived there, residents said they were caught in the middle of a war.

"We are between two fires: the fire of white people and the fire of the Islamist extremists," Abderrahman, 55, told AFP as he stood opposite a police barrier.

He said he was worried on the one hand that his sons could become victims of Islamist attacks like those that killed at least 129 people in Paris on Friday, while on the other hand he feared that his mosque on a nearby street could be attacked by vengeful Belgian right-wing extremists.

Residents also say many parents worry about their sons leaving to fight with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as a lack of economic opportunities for ethnic minority youths has created widespread disaffection.

Molenbeek, a community of around 95,000 people of nearly 100 nationalities, lies just a few metro stops from the gleaming headquarters of the EU and has long been a breeding ground for radicalism.

Molenbeek was where the assassins of Afghanistan's anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud stayed in 2001. It was also home to one of the 2004 Madrid train bombers and the main suspect in the 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

The perpetrator of a foiled attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris in August also stayed with his sister in Molenbeek before boarding the train in Brussels.

Mohammed, a 41-year-old electrician from Molenbeek, blamed the district's problems on the Belgian government, which he said is "too lax" in tackling the problem.

  • He recalled how a friend's son was lured by Islamist extremists and then tried to enter Syria from Turkey before being captured by Kurdish guerrillas. "My friend was crying, 'I never educated my son to do that,'" he quoted his friend as saying.

Analyst Claude Moniquet said that for two decades Molenbeek had played host to fighters from wars in Algeria, Afghanistan and Bosnia as well as those in Syria and Iraq. Experts have compared the area to another breeding ground for radicalism, London's Finsbury Park in the 1990s.

Part of the blame lies with local politicians, who for years have failed to face up to extremism in order to keep "social peace" and continue getting elected, Moniquet said. 



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