Belgian Interior Minister warns against "giving in to fear" following Brussels terror attacks

Jan Jambon tells MEPs that improvements are necessary in fight against terror.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

26 Apr 2016

Speaking in the European Parliament on Monday, he rejected criticism of Belgium's anti-terrorism efforts, arguing that the country was at the forefront of information sharing within the EU.

Jambon told members of the Parliament's justice, civil liberties and home affairs committee that, in the wake of the Brussels terrorist attacks that killed 32 people, Belgium had been forced to "look hard" at its efforts to combat terrorism.

"We will have to look at our own performance, strengthen the weak points and radically tackle what needs to be done," he told the packed committee meeting.


But he also said that Belgium ranked third within the Union - after France and the Netherlands - when it came to providing information about potential extremists to Europol, the EU's main law enforcement agency.

Jambon, who faced severe criticism following the 22 March attacks, said his country had given Europol information about 611 alleged foreign fighters, including "people who went to Syria, came back, died there and also those where we have information that they are preparing to go to Syria."

He also highlighted that a Belgian parliamentary committee had been set up to explore possible shortcomings in the country's fight against terrorism.

An estimated 5000 EU citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other extremist groups, but only 2956 names have been passed from EU member countries to Europol for inclusion in its Focal Point Traveller anti-terror database.

According to the figures, more than 90 per cent of information about foreign fighters added to the database in 2015 came from just five EU member states.

Jambon offered to resign after the attacks, when it emerged that one of the Zaventem suicide bombers had been sent back to Belgium, but this was refused by Prime Minister, Charles Michel.

Jambon told MEPs that many of those injured in the attacks were still in intensive care and would be scarred for life.

While Brussels remained on a "level three" alert - the second highest - he cautioned against "giving in to fear", saying that, "this is exactly what the terrorists want."

He added, "The terrorists want to divide us and we must not fall into that trap. Yes, we have faced a lot of criticism in Belgium but I have tried to ensure that all our services are working together to solve this problem.

"The issue of terrorist foreign fighters is very complex. The solutions are not simple but it is all about integration and keeping track of these people.

"The investigation into the attacks is running full steam ahead. There is a continuing threat and that is why not only stations and the airports are under close surveillance but also soft targets like cinemas and shopping centres."

Jambon faced further criticism after he allegedly told the Belgian daily 'De Standaard' that, "A significant portion of the Muslim community danced after the attacks." He later denied the remarks.

He also told the committee that society would in the future "have to pay a higher price" for security that currently exists, adding that Belgium will likely spend  around €400m on security measures this year, double the figure for 2015.

New Belgian measures include an anti-radicalisation Canal Plan centred on the Molenbeek area, including seven suburbs along the city's Canal Zone.

Anyone wishing to go to Syria may now also have their ID or passport withdrawn and tougher action is proposed against imams preaching hate.

Committee Chair Claude Moraes, a British Socialist MEP, said Jambon's attendance and that of Belgian justice minister Koen Geens, would allow MEPs to assess their own contribution to the fight against terrorism.

Moraes also said that the European Parliament, being based in Brussels, had a strong "emotional connection" to the recent atrocity.

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