The message in the Brussels attack

Updated - November 17, 2021 04:55 am IST

Published - March 24, 2016 12:25 am IST

This time it is Brussels. The >bomb attacks that have killed at least 31 people at the airport and a metro station in the Belgian capital demonstrate that jihadists remain a serious security threat to European societies despite a massive security crackdown since the >November 2015 Paris attacks . Brussels, which hosts key European Union institutions, is the de facto capital of Europe. By striking in the city four days after >Salah Abdeslam, thought to be the lone remaining perpetrator of the Paris attacks, was caught , the terrorists have sent a strong message not just to the Belgian government but to the entire European establishment. The Belgian government woke up to the terrorist threat it faces only after the Paris attacks that killed at least 130 people. Several of the attackers came from the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek. Security forces had carried out a massive combing operation in the neighbourhoods and even locked down the capital city for days. But still it took more than four months for the Belgian authorities to track down and arrest Abdeslam, who was reportedly planning more attacks in Europe. What is more tragic and surprising is that the authorities still could not stop the attack. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel’s words that “what we feared has happened”, bluntly point to the failure of the intelligence and security establishment.

The Brussels attacks also come in a broader context of global jihadists stepping up attacks on civilians around the world. The Islamic State in particular, which has claimed responsibility for the Brussels strike, has carried out a number of attacks across the world, from Paris to Ankara, in recent months. One of the reasons for these attacks in faraway locations is that the group is facing military setbacks in and around the so-called ‘caliphate’, the seat of its influence. Attacking public places and killing innocent people may appear to be sheer madness. But for groups such as the IS, there is a rationale. First, not being able to expand the territories of the ‘caliphate’, the IS wants to export terrorism to other countries so as to stay ‘relevant’ and find more recruits. Second, and more important, the IS is fighting a war against the civilisational values of the modern world. By attacking the public, it wants to create panic in free and open societies, break their social cohesion and then reap the dividends. And it is certain by now that Europe is high on the hit list of the IS because it knows that when it hits Western societies, which are generally known for democratic, secular and pluralistic values, it sets off the real panic button. For the same reasons, the challenges before Europe are also greater. To be sure, it has to raise security operations to a higher standard and strengthen cooperation among other countries in fighting terrorist groups such as the IS and al-Qaeda. But Europe should do it cautiously, without compromising on its moral values and imperilling civil liberties. But refusing to give in to the jihadists’ designs is as important as security measures in this fight — one that is not going to get over any time soon.

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