Saturday

20th Jan 2018

Molenbeek mayor opens new front on extremism

  • "We could not imagine ... that these individuals, who were petty criminals, who were delinquents, would transform into violent radicals" (Photo: romain veillon)

This week’s knife attack on police in the Molenbeek district of Brussels once again drew attention to a place that has been labelled a jihadist hotspot.

A 20-year old man, reportedly Algerian, stabbed two police officers on Wednesday (7 September) before fleeing the scene. He was later caught.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The EU capital remains tense after the March terrorist attack (Photo: Eric Maurice)

Locals say it had nothing to do with Islamic radicalism.

But for her part, Molenbeek’s mayor, Francoise Schepmans, says that radicalisation thrives on other forms of criminality and that one way to tackle terrorism is to first target lower offences.

In the tense atmosphere after the March attack in the EU capital, and other attacks in France and Germany, Belgian media quickly reported that the knife attacker had turned toward Islamic extremism.

Molenbeek already became infamous after it emerged that suspects in the Brussels terrorist attack and in the Paris attack of last November had sheltered there.

Salah Abdeslam, a key Paris suspect, is a Belgian of Moroccan origin who was arrested in Molenbeek in March after having hid there for four months.

His brother, Ibrahim, who also came from Molenbeek, blew himself up in the French capital. Mohamed Abrini, the childhood friend of both brothers, was later involved in the Brussels bombings.

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who lived near to Molenbeek's main police station, also took part in the Paris assault.

More broadly, around 47 residents out of the 100,000 people who live in Molenbeek have gone to fight in Syria with extremist groups such as Islamic State (IS).

Pieter Van Ostaeyen, who researches Belgian jihadists, in early August estimated that 543 Belgians had left in total, of whom 127 had returned to Belgium.

Crime and radicalisation

Local residents deny that this week’s Molenbeek knife attack had any connection to terrorism.

"According to our information, there was no direct link to radicalisation or terrorism," Mustafa Er, a spokesman for the Molenbeek local authority, told this website on Friday (9 September).

Er said the knife attacker was an illegal immigrant who had been ordered to leave Belgium several times.

"The last one [order] dated from August. Unfortunately, that order was not applied," Er said.

Whatever the attacker’s motive might have been, the Molenbeek mayor, who has undertaken the overwhelming task of trying to ensure that her area never again becomes home to terrorists, believes that ordinary crime can be a precursor of radicalisation.

Speaking to EUobserver on Tuesday, Schepmans noted that the Abdeslam group were petty criminals before they were recruited by IS.

"We could not imagine that in 2012, in 2013, that these individuals, who were petty criminals, who were delinquents, would transform into violent radicals," she said in the sidelines of an event organised by the European Institute of Peace, a Brussels-based foundation.

The mayor is currently rolling out a new strategy to crack down on delinquency.

In February, she received some 50 additional police officers specifically tasked to go after drug peddlers, car thieves, and other more-or-less minor offenders.

Crime figures in the neighbourhood had dropped by almost 12 percent between 2009 and 2014.

The first six months of 2016 saw a three-fold increase compared to last year, but authorities said the higher number of arrests was due to greater police numbers and more foot patrols.

Fractured community

Schepmans indicated that Molenbeek’s fractured community was also part of the problem, however.

Asked how Abdeslam had managed to evade arrest for four months, the mayor said that his friends, who hid him, had such a narrow world view that they did not even see him as a terrorist.

"If this delinquent benefited from being hidden, it is simply because the community of Moroccan origin, certain persons from the community thought it was needed to hide the friend, the brother, and not at all a terrorist or a radical," she said.

The European Institute of Peace recently carried out a two-month study in Molenbeek.

Researchers conducted 406 interviews with randomly selected residents. The full report is not yet public, but on Tuesday it produced a summary of findings.

They found, among other things, that Molenbeek residents who have a north African heritage have few contacts with other minorities in the district.

They also found sharp divisions even within the Moroccan community.

They noted, for instance, that some, like those that can trace their origins to the Rif, a mountainous region in North Morocco, speak only Berber while others speak Arabic.

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.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

News in Brief

  1. Germany confirms attendance at air quality summit
  2. Nearly half of 'fixed' Dieselgate cars show problems
  3. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook up hate speech deletion
  4. UK mulls bridge to France
  5. German far-right float anti-asylum bill
  6. EU Parliament to investigate glyphosate-decision process
  7. 'Mutagenesis' falls outside EU's GMO rules, says EU top lawyer
  8. Decision on Polish MEP's Nazi-era slur postponed

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on the agenda This WEEK
  2. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  3. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems
  4. UK loses EU satellite centre to Spain
  5. Pay into EU budget for market access, Macron tells May
  6. Ethiopian regime to get EU migrants' names
  7. EU to lend Greece up to €7bn more next week
  8. Nato prepares to take in Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap