The first Western suicide bomber is a Belgian woman. How come we are not surprised? Because Brussels has long been known to be a Jihadist hub.
On 9 November, 38-year old Belgian Muriel Degauque blew herself to pieces in Baghdad near a group of Iraqi policemen, killing five other people. The woman had converted to Islam after marrying a Belgian of Moroccon origin. Her husband was shot down by American troops. The American authorities informed the Belgian authorities of the woman’s identity a few weeks ago, but Brussels kept it secret. Yesterday evening the Franco-Luxemburgian network RTL announced the news.
Last night, the Belgian police arrested 14 people. Nine of them are Belgians, mostly of foreign origin, three are Moroccans and two are Tunisians. They are said to belong to the same network as the woman suicide bomber. Today a 27-year old man was arrested in Paris. He is suspected of belonging to a group that takes Jihadists from Belgium to Iraq.
In July 2002 I wrote a piece in the British weekly The Spectator, warning that Belgium has become a major recruiting base for al-Qa’eda. In June 2002 Mrs Godelieve Timmermans, the head of the Sûreté de l'Etat, the Belgian secret service, resigned after an official investigation requested by the Belgian Parliament concluded that the Sûreté had adopted a passive attitude towards Muslim extremists because it had found no indications that the terrorists would attack Belgian targets, and also because the Sûreté did not want to discredit certain corrupt Belgian authorities or politicians for fear that these might attribute to the secret service “a racist or xenophobic attitude towards immigrants or Muslims.”
The investigation followed the murder of the Afghan general Ahmad Shah Massoud. He was killed by two suicide bombers carrying Belgian passports on 9 September 2001, two days before the 9/11 attacks. The murder, intended as ‘a gift’ to Osama bin Laden, had been planned by Tarek Maaroufi, a Tunisian-born Belgian citizen and one of the leading al-Qa'eda agents in Europe.
Twice, in 1992 and 1996, the Tunisian government had asked the Belgian government to extradite Maaroufi because Tunis suspected him of being a member of a Tunisian terror group. As Maaroufi had become a Belgian citizen, Brussels turned both requests down. Maaroufi was also a member of the Algerian terror group GIA. In March 1995, when the Belgian authorities arrested 12 GIA members suspected of planning terror assaults in Europe, Maaroufi was one of them. However, the 12 were all set free. The unwillingness of the Belgian authorities to effectively imprison some of the most dangerous terrorists prompted Charles Pasqua, the then French interior minister, to criticise Belgium for its lack of resolve in the fight against international Islamic terrorism. France had been a main target of GIA attacks, including the bombing of the Saint-Michel Metro station in Paris on 25 July 1995, which killed seven people and wounded 117.
The Belgian government had made a deal with the GIA terrorists, agreeing to turn a blind eye to conspiracies hatched on Belgian soil in exchange for immunity from attack. In a GIA statement, addressing the Belgian King Albert II but posted to the French embassy in Brussels in June 1999, the Algerian terror movement explicitly referred to such a deal. Because of its ‘neutralist’ position, Belgium became known as a safe haven for terrorists.
The inquiry of the Belgian parliamentary commission into the Sûreté de l'Etat revealed that it had allowed the Belgian Muslim community – numbering over 350,000 members, including more than 200,000 Moroccans, almost 100,000 Turks and 13,000 Algerians – to become heavily infiltrated by fundamentalist extremists. Thirty of Belgium's 300 mosques, the report said, are run by fundamentalist clerics. Candidates for the Jihad are being recruited among Muslims in schools, prisons, hospitals and sports centres. The report warned that the fundamentalist Muslims are creating a religious state within the Belgian state.
Mrs Timmermans resigned as head of the Sûreté de l'Etat because she said that the state security service was powerless to do anything about the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. The report admitted that the Sûreté has been understaffed for over a decade, that it does not receive adequate funding, and that many retiring officers are not being replaced. The situation has improved a little since 2002. Last year, Maaroufi was convicted to 7 years' imprisonment by a Brussels court. But apparently Belgium still has many Jihadists plotting within its borders.