Sunday

25th Aug 2019

Right-wing politicians score points on Brussels attack

  • Farage's Ukip party published its statement one hour after the metro bomb blast (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Eurosceptic politicians from across Europe blamed Tuesday’s (22 March) attacks on EU policy. US politicians, Russia, and Ukraine also made provocative comments.

Ukip, a British party campaigning for the UK to leave the EU, published a press release one hour after the fatal bomb blast in Maelbeek metro station in Brussels blaming it on EU free movement and asylum laws.

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  • Le Pen and Wilders linked the attacks to Muslim communities in Europe (Photo: European Parliament)

Mike Hookem, its defence spokesman and an MEP, said: “I’m once again calling for an immediate suspension of the Schengen [free travel] agreement, the re-establishment of border controls and an end to the EU’s open door migration policies.”

Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, was widely criticised for posting messages on Twitter that seemed to be referencing the Brexit debate.

“I'm very upset by events in Brussels today and even more depressed for the future,” he said while the attacks were still going on.

He later retweeted a post by Allison Pearson, a columnist for British daily The Telegraph, who described Brussels as “the jihadist capital of Europe,” adding “and the Remainers dare to say we're safer in the EU!".

The main groups campaigning for the UK to leave the EU - Grassroots Out, Leave.EU and Vote Leave - did not issue statements.

The Ukip comments prompted a rebuke by British PM David Cameron, who called them “inappropriate” at a time of mourning.

But with the Out campaign ahead in polls ahead of Britain's EU membership referendum in June, the value of the British pound fell the same day as investors speculated on an anti-EU swing.

“Whilst terrorism and migration are very different issues, they’ve been politically linked,” Jane Foley, an analyst at Dutch lender Rabobank, told The Wall Street Journal. “There is fear by investors this could breed isolationism and promote the leave campaign.”

Wider Europe

Geert Wilders, a popular Dutch anti-immigrant politician, said the attacks meant “we must close our national borders and detain all the jihadists whom we have foolishly allowed to return from Syria”.

“We need to de-Islamise the West,” he told Breitbart, a US news agency.

Speaking from Canada, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French far-right party, the National Front (FN), said: “I don't get the sense that Islamic fundamentalism is being treated like the threat it really is … whoever condemns Islamic fundamentalism is accused of Islamophobia.”

Two days earlier, her niece and National Front MP Marion Marechal-Le Pen said on French TV that if the FN had been in power there would "probably" have been no attacks in Paris last November.

Gian Marco Centinaio and Massimiliano Fedriga, from the far-right Northern League party in Italy, said in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that: “EU institutions are weak, fragile, helpless … allowing these massacres.”

In Germany, the right-wing backlash came from the general public.

When government spokesman Steffen Seibert published a comment on Twitter calling for “solidarity” with Belgium, it prompted irate replies.

“Your boss [chancellor Angela Merkel] is still bringing these Islamists to Germany in hordes,” one Twitter user, Roland Z, said.

Another Twitter user, Eva-Maria Schultheis, said: “Merkel welcomed them all with open arms and this is what it has led to.”

US candidates

Extreme reactions also came from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, two right-wing US politicians campaigning to become the Republican Party's presidential candidate.

Trump told Fox News that the US should “close up our borders to people until we figure out what is going on”.

Cruz called for police patrols of Muslim districts in US cities.

He said the Brussels attacks were cause by a “toxic mix of migrants … and isolated, radical Muslim neighbourhoods”.

“We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighbourhoods,” he said.

Russia’s official reaction was muted.

Russian president Vladimir Putin voiced condolences. Even Dmitry Rogozin, the firebrand deputy PM, said only that Russia and the EU should cooperate on counter-terrorism.

A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, blamed the attacks on “the policy of double standards” in which governments “divide terrorists into good and bad … support them in the Middle East and the North Caucasus”.

’War over info’

In a sign that she went off-message, the Russian mission to the EU complained to EUobserver after it reported that Zakharova had blamed "double standards" in Western foreign policy.

“Ms Zakharova said no such thing,” a Russian press officer said in an email.

Russian broadcaster RT the same day published an op-ed by Marcus Papadopoulos, a UK-based analyst, saying: “The West has brought terrorists attacks on their own people by supporting for decades Islamist terrorists trying to achieve geostrategic objectives.”

Russia's Lifenews reported that the Brussels suicide attackers were two Belarusian brothers - Ivan and Aleksey Dovbash - and that Russian intelligence had forewarned the West of their plot.

But Radio Svaboda, part of the US news agency Radio Liberty, debunked the story by publishing an interview with the two men. “If we are suicide bombers, why are we are still alive?” one of them said.

Ukraine’s intelligence chief, Vasyl Hrycak, said in off-the-cuff remarks at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, a univeristy, he “would not be surprised if it [the Brussels attack] is an element of Russia’s hybrid war.”

He also attracted ridicule.

Mark Galeotti, a US scholar of Russian affairs, called his comment “clumsy,” adding that it’s a “perfect example of how Ukraine manages to fumble infowar by stressing war over info.”

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