Mayor of Molenbeek: Area needs EU support to fight radicalisation

The Mayor of Molenbeek, the Brussels suburb branded a "hotbed of radicalisation", says she is determined to tackle the causes behind the twin attacks on Brussels.

Molenbeek, Brussels | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

28 Jun 2016

Speaking in Brussels, Françoise Schepmans also admitted that the problem could not be properly addressed without "full support" from the EU.

"Ours is a very, very poor area - it has always been something of a forgotten area. People have become very interested and concerned but for a long time people had their heads in the sand about the problems in Molenbeek," she said.

"We must learn the lessons from what has happened here."


Molenbeek, a predominantly migrant area in Brussels, is often referred to as an "Islamist hotspot". Paris attacks suspects, including brothers Brahim and Salah Abdeslam, Mohamed Abrini (also involved in the Brussels attacks), and the mastermind behind the attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud grew up and lived in Molenbeek.

The district has witnessed repeated raids following the Paris and Brussels bombings.

Schepmans, speaking at the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in Brussels, said that since the attacks in March, 50 extra police had been drafted into the area, partly to help reassure local residents concerned at levels of youth delinquency, including among the large Muslim community locally.

This was particularly important, she said, because policing levels had failed to keep pace with the area's booming population growth in recent years.

"Molenbeek has been and remains on the frontline in efforts to tackle the scourge of radicalisation. But what we do not want to do is stigmatise all the people living here. 

"What we need to do is work on those individuals who may present a risk. We are determined to tackle the causes that led people like the Abdeslam brothers to do what they did."

Further comment came from Peter Borsen, of the European Institute of Peace and a mayor in Slovenia, who pointed to a current study in Molenbeek which showed that 47 young Muslim men had travelled from the area to fight in Syria or Iraq.

This, he said, was 10 times the average for the rest of the country which, per head of population, itself has the highest number of foreign fighters in Europe.

As part of the study, young people in Molenbeek had been asked about what they thought might be done to improve the situation.

"While some said better standard of education would help, others spoke about relatively simple things like more bank ATMs. There isn't one ATM in the area which, for a population of 30,000, is astonishing and merely adds to the sense of discrimination felt locally."

Borsen added, "It is important to stress that while we are not at war in Europe, we are not far off. What we need to do now is turn a crisis into an opportunity."

Another speaker at the debate last Thursday, Jorge Bento Silva, of the European Commission's unit on terrorism and crisis management, said that it was in places like Molenbeek where "you have the win the hearts and minds" of young people in the fight against terror.

He said the Commission estimates that 5000 foreign fighters had left Europe to fight in Syria and Iraq for groups like Islamic State.

This debate formed part of a response by the CoR to the challenge of radicalisation. 

The CoR last week adopted its own set of recommendations on ways to prevent radicalisation at a plenary session at which Gilles De Kerchove, the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator, spoke to the institution's members.

Paolo Pellizzari, an Italian photography teacher in Belgium, is trying to launch a beer and soft drinks brand called Molenbeek, and hopes to donate any profits to cultural events for the local community.

He has applied to use Molenbeek as a trademark for his project, which came after a discussion among friends when the commune hit the headlines immediately after last November's terror attack in Paris.

He hopes to sell a first batch of about 500 collector's item Molenbeek drinks at a local event before the end of this year. 

Pellizzari aims to give a more positive image to the commune and promote culture.


Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - New EU regulations on AI seek to ban mass and indiscriminate surveillance

Share this page