Two weeks ago, a terrorist managed to escape arrest in Brussels, despite being
under surveillance by 32 agents of the Belgian state security, the Sûreté de l’Etat (SdE). Belgium is an inherently corrupt state. The prototype of what the European Union as a federal state is likely to become. I have argued for some time (The Spectator, 13 July 2002) that it is no coincidence that Belgium has become a safe haven for international terrorists. Artificial states like Belgium (The Salisbury Review, December 2003) tend to be corrupt (The Wall Street Journal, 12 September 1996) because no-one identifies with the state. Hence, it is no surprise that no-one in the Belgian government refuses to accept responsibility for the escape of Fehriye Erdal.
On 28 February a Belgian court sentenced six Turkish terrorists, belonging to the Kurdish organisation DHKP-C (Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi-Cephesi), to prison sentences. Fehriye Erdal, the most prominent of the terrorists standing trial, was sentenced to four years in jail. She had not been arrested prior to the trial, which dragged on for 7 years (not unusually long in Belgium). When the police came to pick her up after her conviction, however, Erdal had disappeared. The SdE had lost track of her. Watching Kurdish terrorists was not a high priority in Belgium as they were not likely to commit attacks in Belgium itself.
Erdal was involved in the murder of the Turkish businessman Ozdemir Sabanci in Istanbul on 9 January 1996. The DHKP-C has been banned in Germany and Britain, but not in Belgium. Unlike the Flemish secessionist Vlaams Blok party, which was declared a criminal organisation in 2004, the DHKP-C does not threaten the existence of the Belgian state. The DHKP-C is responsible for over 400 murders, assassination attempts and bomb attacks, against Turkish but also against NATO targets.
Mr Sabanci, one of Turkey’s captains of industry, was murdered in Turkey, together with his secretary and the director of Toyota. Videotapes from security cameras show that Erdal had allowed the killers to enter Sabanci’s office. A few weeks earlier she had infiltrated the Sabanci Business Center in Istanbul as a cleaner. [An alternative explanation for the Sabanci murder is that the DHKP-C was working for the French. After the murder of the Toyota boss, the Japanese car manufacturer decided to build a new plant in France rather than in Turkey.]
After the assassination Erdal fled to Germany. In 1997 the German state security informed the SdE that the DHKP-C had moved its headquarters from Germany to Belgium. Under a false identity Erdal settled in a seafront apartment in the fashionable Belgian coastal resort of Knokke. In September 1999 the Belgian police, alerted by a vigilant neighbour, discovered an arsenal of weapons in her apartment and arrested her. In prison her real identity was disclosed. The Turkish authorities asked for Erdal’s extradition but she went on a hunger strike, while “human rights” organisations began a campaign for her release. Even Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of the French president, signed a petition in favour of Erdal.
The Belgian authorities released Erdal in attendance of her trial. She moved to Brussels. It took seven years before she was convicted to four years for the possession of the arms arsenal. The Belgian government maintains they had no indications that Erdal would try to escape. Last Monday, however, Koen Dassen, the former chief of the SdE, said that in 2005 the SdE had warned the Belgian government on three occasions that Erdal would try to flee. Mr Dassen resigned on 30 January, but has not been replaced yet. In 2002 he became head of the SdE after his predecessor resigned following the publication of an official report which revealed that the SdE was failing to screen Islamic terrorists.
For years the Belgian authorities have pursued a policy of turning a blind eye to extremist groups in return for the latter’s implicit agreement not to target Belgium. In 1996, Charles Pasqua, the French Minister of the Interior at the time, accused Belgium of lacking the resolve to fight international Islamic terrorism. The accusation followed the release in Brussels of twelve members of the Algerian terror group GIA, the Algerian branch of al-Qaeda. France had been a main target of GIA attacks, which included the bombing of the Saint-Michel Metro station in Paris on 25 July 1995 where seven people were killed and 117 wounded. At the time 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 has become known as a safe haven for terrorists.
The SdE is not incapable of doing its job, however, as is shown by the thoroughness with which they scrutinize Flemish nationalists and secessionists. In 2003 Soetkin Collier, the lead singer of Urban Trad, Belgium’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, was banned from taking part in the contest because, according to the SdE, she had participated in a Nazi rally commemorating Rudolf Hess in 1996. This allegation later proved to be false. Ms Collier, though not polically active herself, came from a Flemish family with secessionist sympathies.
Following Erdal’s escape the Belgian opposition – the Flemish-secessionists and the Christian-Democrats – have asked for the resignation of Laurette Onkelinx, the Socialist minister of Justice, who supervises the SdE, and Patrick Dewael, the Liberal minister of the Interior, who supervises the police. Both ministers refuse to step down. They claim not to be responsible for what went wrong.