Wednesday

19th Jun 2019

Molenbeek locals counter 'terrorist image' with vigil

  • Molenbeek neighbourhood in Brussels was home to one of the suicide bombers in the Paris attacks (Photo: Erasmushogeschool Brussel)

Residents of the impoverished Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek are trying to give a more nuanced image than the one put about by some media and politicians in the past few days.

Locals and others from around Brussels are holding a silent candle vigil at the town square on Wednesday (18 November). The vigil is to commemorate the Paris attacks but also, in part, to resist the backlash of widespread negative views of the neighbourhood.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

“We are not going to speak, we are asking everyone to be silent and just to come to the city hall square and to light a candle”, Greet Simons, who organises the vigil, told this website on Tuesday (17 November).

According to social media invites, over 2,000 will be attending, with another larger demonstration planned for Brussels city centre on Sunday.

Simons, who runs a local Flemish cultural centre in the neighbourhood, said people in Molenbeek are afraid of the repercussions as police step up patrols and checks.

“We have a history of police violence in Molenbeek against young people, and of course everyone is afraid that it will be increased”, she said.

The city police are broken up into six different units, which do not always communicate with one another. The fragmented force and various administrative layers of government within the city are among the issues the federal government intends to improve.

Meanwhile, Belgian police descended en masse on Monday in their efforts to capture Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects behind the Paris shootings on Friday that killed 129 people. They did not find him.

His brother Brahim was one of the killers.

The two French nationals had lived in the neighbourhood but showed no signs of having been radicalised in the lead-up to the shootings, according to some locals. Brahim had run a café that was shut down earlier this month because of petty crimes like drug dealing. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the presumed Belgian mastermind behind the attacks, is also from Molenbeek.

The predominately Moroccan neighbourhood has also been linked to other disasters.

Weapons used in the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year by Amedy Coulibaly are thought to have been purchased there. Mehdi Nemmouche, who opened fired at the Brussels’ Jewish museum last year, may also have bought his weapons there. The thwarted Thalys attacker Ayoub el-Khazzani had also been staying in the neighbourhood.

Over the weekend, Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon vowed “to clean up Molenbeek”.

And earlier this week, Molenbeek’s mayor Françoise Schepmans told this website that poverty in her district is due in part to the high concentration of youth with few prospects for employment. She noted around 30 young residents had left to fight in Syria.

For the some 80,000 people who live there, the neighbourhood offers an entirely other perspective.

But Simons described Molenbeek as a neighbourhood in transition, secure, and one that attracts artists.

“Now there is a whole artistic movement going on here”, she said, noting for example La Vallee.

Weapons in Molenbeek

Youssef Handichi, a regional parliament MP for Brussels, said that “the whole world perceives Molenbeek as a terrorist breeding ground where everything is going bad”.

He said the community has been neglected by politicians and ministers like Jan Jambon.

“What we have asked him [Jambon] for a long time is to invest in our youth, to invest in Molenbeek, to finance a social policy that is coherent”, he said.

He said the weapons used in Paris attacks are not like the ones typically circulating in Molenbeek. Instead, he believes Daesh, the Arabic name of the Islamic State, provided them.

He noted Belgium, along with other countries like France, Germany, and the UK, are supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The Saudi kingdom, for its part, is said to be financing ultra-orthodox Wahhabi mosques in Molenbeek.

“The links are there. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are sending those weapons to Daesh. At one point or another a choice needs to be made: should that business continue, or do we end it now?”

A 2009 Wikileaks cable penned by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide."

Saudi Arabia purchased some $90 billion of weapons from the US between 2010 and 2015. On Monday, the US state department approved a $1.29 billion sale of smart bombs to the kingdom.

Amnesty International, for its part, in a report earlier last month said the weapons are being used to terrorise Yemen.

EU tables anti-foreign fighters laws

The EU Commission has proposed two pieces of legislation to criminalize travelling and training for terrorist purposes and prevent arms sales to terrorists and crime gangs.

Investigation

Bearded infidels in the EU capital

Salafism, the hardline creed invoked by IS, is causing tension among Belgium's Muslims. "We should have done more," to stop its spread, Belgian authorities admit.

News in Brief

  1. New socialist group leader to push for Timmermans
  2. Romanian ex-PM frontrunner to head new liberal group
  3. France, Germany and Spain in fighter jet deal
  4. Tusk grilled in Poland over role as PM
  5. Italy is 'most credible' US partner in EU, says Salvini
  6. EU blames Sudan junta for killings and rapes
  7. Report: EU may suspend Turkey customs union talks
  8. Swiss stock exchange could lose EU access in July

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. EU urges Swiss to move on talks or face sanction
  2. Frontex transparency dispute goes to EU court
  3. Commission goes easy on scant national climate plans
  4. Macron and Mogherini decline to back US accusation on Iran
  5. EU summit must give effective answer on migration
  6. Spain's Garcia set to be next Socialist leader in parliament
  7. Erdogan mocks Macron amid EU sanctions threat
  8. The most dangerous pesticide you've never heard of

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us