Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

Belgium 'insulted' by bad press on terrorism

  • Thirty two people died and hundreds were injured following attacks on 22 March in Brussels (Photo: Eric Maurice)

Two Belgian ministers criticised international media for bad press of government mistakes in the lead up to the terrorist attacks in Brussels and then insisted on reinstalling illegal data retention rules throughout Europe.

"I'm afraid that our society will have to pay a higher price for its security than is the case now," Belgium's interior minister Jan Jambon told euro-deputies on Monday (25 April).

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

Jambon was speaking alongside Belgium's minister of justice Koen Geens at the European parliament's civil liberties committee.

Both men praised their intelligence and security services despite glaring gaps that almost led to their resignations in the immediate aftermath of the Brussels bombings on 22 March that killed 32 and injured hundreds.

They noted that after France, Belgium shares the most data with the EU's police agency Europol.

They say legislation has now been passed that will allow authorities to conduct house searches at night. They are also banning the anonymity of pre-paid SIM cards and have earmarked €400 million in 2016 to tackle home grown terrorism prevention.

They pointed out how their intelligence services dismantled a terrorist cell in Verviers in January last year and that Belgium had convincted 115 people of terrorism offences in 2015, up from seven or eight a year before 2014.

But more than a year after the success in Verviers, the same authorities missed or ignored clues that may have averted the Brussels attacks.

Zaventem airport suicide bomber Ibrahim el-Bakraoui had been arrested and kicked out of Turkey last July and then slipped by Belgian authorities despite having been put on a terrorist watch list and despite having broken his parole.

A police chief in Mechelen, a city near Brussels, had also held onto information for three months that could have led investigators to suspected terrorist Salah Abdeslam because his colleague "forgot to pass on the information of the dossier".

On the day of the attacks, the alert to stop metro lines in Brussels was issued almost an hour after the airport bombing.

Geens said the bad press on Belgium's weak spots to the growing threat of terrorism "not only damaged the country" but "is also an insult".

"Few countries have been attacked so violently by the international press," he said.

He then spoke at length about the need to sweep up people's digital trails in a larger effort to gather evidence and prevent further attacks.

Belgium wants new EU legislation on data retention, which the European Court of Justice declared illegal in 2014 for its broad scope and fundamental rights violations.

Geens said Belgium had tried to convince the EU commission and the council, representing member states, to come up with new retention rules after the ECJ ruling but without avail.

"For Christ's sake, let's not exaggerate with regard to privacy when our security is involved, it is just too complicated," he said.

Belgium is instead passing its own rules for data retention, despite broad EU-level resistance, and the Luxembourg court's judgment.

It plans to extend a new EU law on gathering personal data of people flying into and out of Europe to also cover rail, bus, and ferry travel.

"All modes of transport, so not only aviation, but also international trains and even also ships, busing systems," said Jambon.

They plan to add new police officers in Molenbeek, the Brussels neighbourhood where some of the attackers lived.

Jambon said 16 would be dispatched to the troubled neighbourhood, out of the 300 new posts that will be created for whole of Brussels.

Belgium has designated 611 of its nationals as foreign fighters or people who have gone to Syria and returned or planned on doing so.

EU seeks access to 'digital evidence'

Interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday agreed to boost intelligence sharing, in an echo of previous pledges after last November's Paris attacks.

Belgium is no failed state, says PM

In a press conference designed to restore his country's image two weeks after the attacks, Charles Michel said that security is efficient and that Brussels is a welcoming place.

News in Brief

  1. EU investigating BMW, Daimler and VW 'collusion'
  2. Spain wants special Gibraltar chapter in Brexit deal
  3. Italy cancels Vienna talks over South Tyrol 'dual citizenship'
  4. Britain will not accept Brexit deal with Irish Sea border
  5. Slovakia seeks witness to journalist killing
  6. Finland's Stubb considers running for EU commission job
  7. Romania ponders anti same-sex marriage referendum
  8. EU lawyers back Slovenia in Croatia border dispute

Opinion

Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism

One year to the day since the terror attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, the commissioner for home affairs spells out what action the EU is taking now to protect against further attacks.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers
  2. Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal
  3. New book: Why war is coming
  4. EU parliament will not budge on office expenses
  5. Why Orban's project to reshape EU politics will be unsuccessful
  6. 10 years after Lehman Brothers what has changed for EU consumers?
  7. Sefcovic launches bid to be EU Commission president
  8. Is Russia blackmailing the Council of Europe?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us