Brussels attacks demonstrate 'urgent need' for EU intelligence cooperation

A Brussels conference was told that the ISIS attacks on Brussels further underlines the "urgent need" for improved collaboration between Europe's intelligence services.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

25 Mar 2016

A Brussels conference was told that the ISIS attacks on Brussels, which killed 31 people and injured another 270, further underlines the "urgent need" for improved collaboration between Europe's intelligence services.

The event was told of the need for improved co-operation between the intelligence services and the police in all member states, "working together to detain and deter terrorists."

Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre, said the events of this week, together with the attacks on Paris in November and recent bombings in Ankara, showed the problem of tackling Jihadist radicalisation was a Europe-wide issue.


The fact that the terrorists had chosen well known landmarks such as an airport and the EU Quarter of Brussels was "symbolically important" and sent a "clear message" as to their intentions. 

Rashad Ali, head of strategy at the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, said that improved intelligence gathering and collaboration between Europe's police forces and intelligence agencies would be vital in dealing with such phenomenon.

Ali, who has worked closely on counter terrorist issues, said that Europe was now on the "frontline" in the fight against terrorism and radicalisation and warned of an even "broader" reach of a "global terrorist project."

"It is not the first time we have faced such a challenge but what has changed and what is new is the nature of the challenge."

The challenge, he asserted, came from those who have an "entirely different" view of society from the mainstream and this made the response to such a threat "fundamentally" important.

Ali cautioned against "engaging" with extremists, arguing that this could be "suicidal". But he also insisted that it was equally important to ensure that "all Muslims are not labelled in the same way."

Despite the temptation for reactionary measures in the wake of attacks such as those in Brussels, Ali also said it was vital that those seeking to counter such threats did not "compromise" their "values and principles."

Alexander Ritzmann, a senior research fellow at the Brandenburg Institute for Security and Society, strongly argues against instant reactionary measures.

Ritzmann, who has worked in the area of counter terrorism for many years, also questions the capacity of the intelligence agencies to address the issues relating to jihadism, religious radicalisation and violent extremism.

He said he was "amazed" that, 15 years after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the West still "did not seem to understand" that terrorism was merely a "tactic" to achieve a specific objective.

"These people do these things not just to kill people - they want a reaction from us," he argued.

One aim of terrorist attacks was to push moderate Muslims towards extremism and, in the event of attacks such as those in Istanbul, Brussels and other cities, for the Western powers to then "over react."

Ritzmann added, "This would then allow the extremists to turn round and say to their recruits, 'we told you so'."

"ISIS and other extremists want to lure the West into a battle on their territory and that is why they want the Americans to send ground troops to Syria."

He was particularly keen also to highlight what he sees as current shortcomings in the capacity of some intelligence agencies to adequately deal with the threat to domestic and external security of many countries.

"You have to ask questions about the capabilities of our security and intelligence services and also their openness for cooperation and collaboration."

"Information gathering and information exchange are the cornerstone of our security," he asserted.

His comments took on added significance after it emerged that the men behind the Brussels bombings were known to police while the head of Europol has also warned that as many as 5,000 ISIS trained jihadists are wandering free in Europe.

Ritzmann, though, said that despite the apparently bleak outlook there was some room for optimism, adding, "We can deal with these people - we just need to be smarter in doing it."

Roberta Bonazzi, executive director at the European Foundation for Democracy pointed to the need expose the Islamist ideology that inspires and drives such terrorist acts.

"This is a pervasive ideology," Bonazzi said, "that is the source of radicalisation that can lead to terrorism and/or recruitment to terrorist organisations."

The debate was organised well before Tuesday's atrocity but, it was said, the attacks on the city's airport and a city centre subway gave the discussion added poignancy.

It was organised by the European Foundation for Democracy and the European Policy Centre, two Brussels-based policy institutes, in conjunction with the Counter Extremism Project, a U.S-based initiative which was launched in Brussels six months ago, and ISPI, the Milan-based Institute for International Political Studies.

It was the first in a series of policy dialogues on jihadist radicalisation and the European responses.

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