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Two Belgian-born brothers have been identified as suicide bombers in this week’s deadly attacks in Brussels. As Belgium mourns the loss of 31 people, investigators continue the manhunt for other suspects. This is the third major ISIS attack in the heart of Europe in little more than a year, prompting questions about Europe’s ability to get ahead of such assaults. Fluid borders and what some call a broken security apparatus across multiple countries are under renewed scrutiny. Belgium faces a uniquely difficult situation: it sends more western fighters to Syria than anywhere else, with many returning to Belgium. Understanding what’s behind security challenges in Belgium and across Europe, and what these recent attacks mean for threats to Europe and beyond.
- Peter Spiegel Brussels bureau chief, Financial Times
- Matthew Levitt Director, Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
- Akbar Ahmed Chair, Islamic studies at American University, former Pakistani high commissioner to the U.K. his forthcoming book is titled “Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Empire”
MS. KATHERINE LANPHERThanks for joining us. I'm Katherine Lanpher sitting in for Diane Rehm. Since the November terror attacks in Paris lead investigators to a neighborhood outside Brussels, all eyes have been on the Belgian capital. Why then was no one able to stop Tuesday's deadly attacks? The answer is a complicated one. According to many, it has as much to do with the sophistication of ISIS as it does with the failure on the part of European intelligence.
MS. KATHERINE LANPHERHere to discuss the latest in the investigation into the attacks and the challenges to Belgium and beyond, we have Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. We also have with us, Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University and the former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK. We'll also be talking to him about his forthcoming book, "Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Empire."
MS. KATHERINE LANPHERAnd joining us by phone from Brussels is Peter Spiegel, the Brussels bureau chief for The Financial Times. Peter, you're on the ground there so I'd like to start with you. And just give us the latest in the investigation. What have we been learning?
MR. PETER SPIEGELWell, I've seen another one of these fast-moving days. I'm actually standing right outside the Belgian Parliament right now where we've had an emergency cabinet meeting this morning because of revelations that came out of Turkey that one of these guys, one of the bombers from the airport was not only known to authorities, but had basically been deported back from Turkey/Syrian border to Europe with warning from Turkish authorities that these guys were radicalized.
MR. PETER SPIEGELThe government met this morning and two of the ministers offered their resignation, the justice minister and the interior minister. Now, the prime minister has decided not to accept these resignations. But this issue you raised in your introduction about the extent to which Belgian authorities knew what was going on and failed to do anything about, that’s come full center today and that's been almost overtaken any of development in the investigation itself.
LANPHERSo what do you think is going to happen next?
SPIEGELWell, to be honest with you, I think it's going to be a lot of recrimination, but I think this government is going to survive. The question is, I think, more broad, which is the issue you raised. Can Europe, more broadly, can Belgium, more specifically, track these guys and stop these kinds of things from happening? And we've been talking to a lot of experts in this and as you say, these ISIS operatives in Europe have adapted quite well over the last 18 months or so since some of the earlier failed plots that were broken up here in Belgium, particularly in 2014.
SPIEGELThey had been able to figure out how to get around authority surveillance and, you know, fake documents, these kinds of things, and even when the authorities know their name, that clearly is the case now with one of the bombers that was deported from Turkey, they can't find them. And, you know, some people say, look, the U.S. couldn't find bin Laden for years, couldn't find Sadam for years. You know, you talk to even Mafia investigators which we've been doing a little of today, you know, talking about, you know, known Mafioso that they've been searching for in Italy for years.
SPIEGELIf you have a population that is unwilling to tip off authorities about the whereabouts of people in their community, it is incredibly difficult for even the best intelligence services to track these guys down. And I think even the Belgians will acknowledge they had been slow to ramp up to face this jihadi threat. I think this current government actually was aware of it and, particularly after Charlie Hebdo, did spend more money, did try to ramp up its capability, but they were coming from a pretty far base. I mean, they spent about 10 years under-investing in these kind of capabilities.
SPIEGELSo they're getting better, but the ISIS guys seem to be becoming even more sophisticated and they're losing the race at this point.
LANPHEROkay. Peter, we're going to turn now to Matt Levitt. How behind do you think Brussels is?
MR. MATTHEW LEVITTKatherine, they're quite behind and they recognize it. I was there last week, met with Belgian intelligence and counterterrorism officials. I was sitting with the senior counterterrorism officials. They were planning the first raid last week on Tuesday in the neighborhood of Forrest. And they were quite open about it and they recognize they have a long way to go. There are two sets of issues here. One is domestically, within Belgium, it's a very federal system divided by geography and language and culture.
MR. MATTHEW LEVITTAnd even within some of the services, there's not the best of communication between people who speak those two different languages. And then, more broadly, within the EU...
LANPHERAren't we actually talking three languages in Belgium, which can make it even...
LEVITTCorrect. But primarily Dutch and French. And then, more broadly within the EU, there simply is not sufficient intelligence and information sharing across those borders as this recent indication suggests, that the Turks had provided information on one returning foreign terrorist fighter. And I'll give you just one example. The latest EU counterterrorism coordinator report to the European Council reports that while we know that at least 5,000 EU members have gone to fight with the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and more recently Libya, the reporting from member states is only at 50 percent of that number, about 2700 people.
LEVITTAnd what's worse is that of that number that is reported, which is only about half of what we know to be true, those reports only come from a total of five of the EU member states, over 90 percent of the reports come from only five member states. So there's a massive gap in the ability not only to collect the information, but then get it where it needs to be, share it in a timely manner.
LANPHERAkbar Ahmed, why Europe? What makes it that it's this heart of Europe, the center of Europe that is the focus?
MR. AKBAR AHMEDKatherine, that's a great question because it immediately raises the issue of comparison with the United States which also has a Muslim minority population. And, of course, you're hearing some of the presidential candidates comment on that. Europe is interesting and different from the United States because many of the communities living there right now are coming as a consequence of the last 200 years of imperial history.
MR. AKBAR AHMEDFor example, the French in Algeria, so a lot of the Algerians are living in Marseilles in France, in Paris. Belgium also had a colonial history. Britain had a colonial history. Germany then invites the guest workers. So you have a relationship, which is not completely like the United States where people come here as immigrants. Secondly, the immigrant community I saw these couple of years that I've been studying the Muslim communities in Europe, have not really been integrated so they're living in kinds of ghettos.
MR. AKBAR AHMEDTheir education standards are really very, very poor. Their unemployment rate's extremely high, 40 percent or so. They are socially looked upon aliens and rejected. They are then considered and behave like petty criminals, very often landing up in prison where very often they're radicalized. So even these two brothers, for example, both have had this record. They've been in and out of jail. They've been involved in all kinds of shady activity. So when you combine this, Katherine -- and this, by the way, could be for Marseilles. I could be for Paris.
MR. AKBAR AHMEDIt could be for Bradford. We have to be very careful because if we have to solve the problem -- 'cause we have been discussing all this in terms of ISIS, which is, of course, a major actor and in terms of the administration, which, of course, must step up, although I think it's a little bit unfair to project them, I think, as we are tending to, as bunch of Inspector Clouseaus, because, of course, Clouseau is from France. We recognize that. But at the same time, these people do have a major problem.
MR. AKBAR AHMEDThe problem is this third dimension, which is missing in the discussion, which is the community. This kind of terrible action, Paris last year twice, Brussels now, Cologne, which happened at New Year's Eve, sexual and physical assaults, would not have been possible if the community had been integrated and part of society. They are citizens. The young people, especially, they feel a great sense of resentment, anger. They're not all violent, but this kind of social isolation will push individuals who already have nothing to lose to do acts of violence.
MR. AKBAR AHMEDSo along comes ISIS and finds a lot of young kids who may be tempted or seduced to go down the wrong path.
LANPHERWhen Peter mentioned that it's very hard to get information from a populous or a population that wouldn't want to give anyone up, it sounds like what you've just discussed as the perfect setup for that kind of population.
AHMEDIt is, Katherine. And when we were traveling, it was very difficult. We faced some -- by the way, we actually went into mosques. We went to the communities. We faced...
LANPHERThis is all research for the book.
AHMEDYeah, research for the book in exactly these communities. We first faced dangers. At one stage in Bradford, my team -- remember most of these, my young American team, young American students and scholars who were actually physically assaulted. And the reason was our fault because we hadn't informed anybody. We just turned up. And they saw this as very hostile because the mosque had been attacked a few weeks before so there was a lot of tension.
AHMEDNow, what helps a great deal is if you contact the local leaders, social leaders, religious leaders. Doors then open. You go there. You sit there respectfully and you suddenly realize that they want to share this problem 'cause they don't want this terrorism in their community because they then face the backlash. And these kids create a double problem for them. Both for them immediately as a family and this feeds into the larger discussion and isolation of the Muslim community.
LANPHERMatt, very quickly, can we talk about an event that happened after Charlie Hebdo who the Belgian authorities actually were very forward?
LEVITTSo it's important to note that the ah-ha moment for Europe on the changing nature of the threat from the Islamic state didn't come this week. It came 15 months ago and it wasn't actually Charlie Hebdo.
LANPHERThat's right, that's right.
LEVITTIt was a week later in raids in Verviers. And what happened was that intelligence picked up telephone communication between this one Islamic State terrorist Abaaood, a Belgian national who became an Islamic State terrorist running operations in Europe. He was sitting in Greece on the phone with operatives in Verviers who were plotting a series of major attacks, we believe, in Belgium, but there was plotting going on in the Netherlands, in Germany and France as well.
LEVITTAnd it was at that point that they saw a shift not only from people who were being inspired at home to go carry out whatever you can, but foreign directed plots by returning foreign fighters who had skills they picked up in Syria and Iraq to make the kind of bombs we saw this week, to collect the kind of weapons and use them like we saw then and that was a big turning point.
LANPHERAll right. We're going to continue this conversation and, of course, you may join us at 1-800-433-8850 or you can email us at drshow@wamu.O-R-G. You are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
LANPHERWelcome back. I'm Katherine Lanpher sitting in for Diane Rehm. We are continuing our conversation on the investigation into the terror attacks in Brussels and what it means for the future of security in Europe. We are talking to Matthew Levitt, director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who in fact was just in Brussels last week. On the phone, we have Peter Spiegel in Brussels, the bureau chief for the Financial Times. And we're also talking to Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic studies at American University and who was also recently in Brussels for a forthcoming book titled, "Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Empire."
LANPHERAhmed -- Mr. Ahmed, I know that you wanted to make a little succinct point before we go back to Peter on the phone.
AHMEDThank you, Katherine. Katherine, my aim would be to find long-term solutions. ISIS is going to be phased out or be finished or be destroyed, hopefully sooner rather than later. It's the community again. Dr. Levitt had just made this important point about the training of these European Muslims. It doesn't take a great deal of skill to have them act in violent manners. For example, there are so many incidents of individuals stabbing Jewish individuals. And you've got examples from France, in Belgium. You've got...
LANPHEROf Jewish individuals being victims.
AHMEDYes. Yes. Being victims attacked by Muslims. Museums being attacked, schools being attacked. I'm interested in finding out the roots of this anger, hatred and tackling that. We met chief rabbis in Denmark, in England, the leaders of the Jewish community in Marseilles, and they were all really concerned. They were saying it's the worst we've seen it since the Second World War. So there's something going on in the community and has to be tackled at that level. It has to be long term and it has to be thought out, not knee-jerked and not this kind of response that we're getting right now, you know, which is highly emotional with a lot of fraught but very little substance.
LANPHERPeter Spiegel, I want to make sure that we return to you standing by in Brussels. Would love to have your reaction to the conversation you've heard so far. And also, keep us up to date on what's happening.
SPIEGELYeah. I mean, one point I would make about the Muslim community in Brussels, which we have struggled with a bit as reporters here, is -- this sounds obvious, but I think it's an important point to make -- it's not monolithic. And you get rather different reactions depending on which community you go to. As the doctor said, you certainly have communities, particularly the Moroccan community here, that is disillusioned, is poor and is radicalized. And yet, right next to it, you have a Turkish community that is just as poor, just as isolated, and yet there is no evidence of any radicalization.
SPIEGELSo it's a tough one -- it's a tough nut to crack. Because there are certain, whether it's community leadership, whether it is the local imam, and we're trying to get to the roots of that because there is no obvious explanation other than it's more complex than we think it is. It's not just alienation and lack of integration that seems to be driving these individuals, these young men, into the hands of some of the recruiters. I think it's more nuanced. I think what has happened is you get charismatic leaders like Abaaoud, who was mentioned early, sort of the ringleader both in Paris and earlier than that in Verviers in southeast Belgium here, and I think sometimes these cells organize around individuals rather than prompted by their social surroundings.
SPIEGELNow that could just -- that's an impressionistic view. But it's been very striking to me, you know, wandering through these neighborhoods -- Molenbeek and now Schaerbeek -- and talking to many of these individuals and noticing how different the various communities are and their response to that kind of alienation on employment and poverty.
LANPHERMatt, I'd like to turn to you.
LEVITTPeter's absolutely right. I spent time in Molenbeek last week with the mayor and the police and spent some time in the neighborhood itself, too. And people need to appreciate, there's high unemployment in Belgium, but the unemployment rate in Molenbeek is as high as 30 percent. It's a municipality of 100,000 people, with 8,000 to 10,000 people going in and out every year -- a highly transient community. It's the second poorest municipality in the country and the second youngest by demographic.
LEVITTAnd so what you have in that particular neighborhood, primarily Moroccan, is a lot of people who are involved in crime, from broken homes. And what a group like the Islamic State offers them, as one official put it to me, is an opportunity to go from zero to hero. And when you're trying to work with elements of the local Muslim community and parts of the Muslim community are very much your partner, there's a problem in Brussels in particular, an amazing statistic officials gave me, there are approximately 114 imams in the city. Out of those 114, the number that speak any of the local languages -- in other words, the number that aren't only Arabic speakers -- out of 114, is 8.
AHMEDYes. I'm glad we're moving more toward sociological and cultural dimensions of this discussion, because that is vital to understand the community and to discover long-term solutions to what's going on. We do not want repeats of Brussels or Paris or these terrible incidents that are happening. The point Peter raised and Dr. Levitt confirmed, the various origins of the community -- the ethnic, the national and the sectarian differences within the community.
AHMEDAnd another thing, Peter, you may notice on the ground, is the lack of clear leadership. So a leader in the Turkish community will not necessarily be accepted by the Moroccan community. These are the two major communities in Belgium but, in France, is going to be completely different. In France, it's more North African. In Britain, it's more Pakistani. About 80 to 90 percent of people, they are from the Muslim communities from Pakistan. And of those, something like 70 percent are from Azad Kashmir. So out of the -- this community come the Lords, the Members of Parliament in Britain.
AHMEDSo, again, you see the ethnic dimension of this discussion. Some communities are very strongly in favor of law and order and the administration and they will not have a problem. There's good coordination between the community and the administration. Some are not. And we're seeing in Brussels a kind of breakdown. And that has to be reinforced.
LANPHERPeter, I'd like to return to you for a moment. One of the strengths that Belgium prided itself on was that it was such an open country, an open community. How will the recent events change that?
SPIEGELYeah. I mean, we've tried to have followed that since the Paris attacks, because we're been watching that movement as well. And Brussels is, as you say, is different than Paris in that Molenbeek, for instance, is literally, you know, I'm standing here in the government center of Brussels, it's about a 15-minute walk from here. I mean, it's a -- the down -- it's sort a hard describable neighborhood, but there's very beautiful, sort of old 19th century, you know, townhouses. It's a very vibrant community. It's not like the (word?) in Paris, which are pushed out to the side and are outside the center and are isolated.
SPIEGELSo it was a general feeling here in Brussels that because of that, because they're at least physically more integrated in the community, that they wouldn't get the kind of problems that they had in Brussels -- in Paris. And that may have led to a bit of sort of keeping their -- taking their eye off the ball. There was also, I think -- and I talked to many leaders about this -- a bit of a sense that if we let things, you know, left people alone here, that they won't commit bad acts here. And so it was okay if they allowed sort of some of these radical imams to operate in the area. But as long as they sort of did their bad works elsewhere, it wasn't going to be a problem.
SPIEGELBut certainly, in the last -- I just repeat so slightly, but certainly, in the last 18 months, that has changed. And you still hear some people in the -- in Belgian society saying, you know, the reason they attacked us is because we went after them. If they -- we had let them sort of peacefully alone and let them live their lives, that this wouldn't have happened. Now, that's a minority, but it certainly is a very different approach than the French have and certainly the Americans have in dealing with this problem. And it's still a very big debate within Belgian society how to approach this.
LANPHERJust to make sure I'm understanding, we shouldn't have attacked them, meaning that Europe and the U.S. should not have intervened in Syria?
SPIEGELNo. I mean even much more local.
SPIEGELThat the -- what happened was, when -- after Verviers, there was a big push by Belgian authorities to sort of -- I think, basically, law and order. You know, crack down on locals, you know, raiding of houses, shaking of trees. This thing becomes -- we sort of see it in the United States every day -- that kind of stuff doesn't happen here. I mean, there's a (word?) story that actually they didn't do raids at night here in Brussels until after the Paris bombings, because they didn't want to disturb the local areas. And so it's a very different attitude towards dealing with these communities.
SPIEGELAnd there are some, still -- the people to the political left, who said, this is what happens when you start shaking the tree, when you start rounding up people. They react in different ways. And so, if you just -- I guess I raise this not to say this is an argument that, you know, many people agree with, it's just to give a flavor of the internal debate here in Brussels, which is different, I think, than the French and the British and certainly the Americans.
LANPHERPeter, thank you. I want to remind everyone that you are welcome to this conversation. It's 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like to email us. And of course you can reach us by Facebook or Twitter. Matt, we have a email from a listener. I believe this is an example of what is to come. Refugees that are currently flooding Europe all expect to find employment, to find a place to live, et cetera. While they appear to be wanting a better life, they're also expecting to be provided with that. Once they begin to become disillusioned, the tendency for resentment, anger and terrorism are going to be even more the norm.
LEVITTLook, it's certainly the case that failure to have a serious approach to social integration has wide-ranging social and ultimately it can have security consequences. That's true for the immigrant communities that are already in Western countries. And it's certainly exacerbated when you have more immigrants coming in. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be welcoming refugees and migrants. It just means that we need to have plans in place to be able to integrate them. You can't welcome them into your country and then say figure it out. That doesn't work so well.
LEVITTAnd so, right now, countries in Europe are extremely focused on this and they're just beginning to get up to speed, both in terms of reaching out into the communities to provide social opportunity and in terms of trying to deal with radicalization in the community. I'll give you one example. The police -- the local police in Molenbeek have both, within the police, a counter-radicalization cell, and also working for the municipality, a civilian group of prevention people to work with individuals who -- before they become radicalized, if you see someone on a bad path, to help them out.
LEVITTBut then, in this community of about 100,000 people, the police cell is eight and the civilian is three. So there's a lot more that we need in terms of capacity to deal with these issues.
LANPHERI want to go to a caller now. We have Brock calling us from Las Cruses, N.M.
BROCKHi. What's up?
LANPHERWe've got a show going on and I think you have something to say.
BROCKYes, ma'am, I do. I'm a vet. I did 10 years. And I was in Fallujah, Tikrit, Kabul, whatever. My comment is basically this, and I've been saying this for a lot of years, thank God that the world didn't think that we were all KK members -- KKK members when they were walking down the street in the '50s. I served with many, many, many Muslims and they're just like us. They just want to be okay with life. You know, they just want to, you know, raise their kids and be okay. And, I mean, that's it. You know, I just want everybody to understand that they're not all radicals. They're not all -- they don't all want to blow us up.
LANPHEROkay, Brock. Thanks for that.
LANPHERYou are listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, Brock just put in his two cents. We'd like to hear yours. 1-800-433-8850 or email@example.com. Akbar Ahmed.
AHMEDThank you, Katherine. I just wanted to thank Brock, as the Muslim member of your team. I'm here with this distinguished Dr. Levitt. I really feel that we need to hear what Brock just said, that we must not demonize the other. We must not demonize the Muslims. It's important because we need to understand that they are our partners in this battle against violence, that very, very often, they are the main victims. That, while Europe was struck, Turkey was struck, Ankara was struck, Constantinople was struck, Istanbul and, of course, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, there are signs that ISIS has also entered these areas.
AHMEDAnd a lot of the media in the Muslim world in fact is outraged because they say, we are fighting the scourge of this violence. And, for example, in Pakistan, the Pakistan Army is right now in the tribal areas fighting the TTP, the Taliban, and it's a very, very nasty kind of deadly battle that's taking place. And they say that this is Europe's problem because these are all European citizens and they have to come to grips with it because it is now destabilizing us, that what's happening in Syria, as you know now, you've got millions of refugees living in Turkey, they're spilled into Jordan.
AHMEDI had the honor of meeting the King of Jordan when he was here last in Washington. And he said something like one-fifth of my population is now Syrian refugee. So how long are we going to be able to sustain this ongoing crisis, which seems to have no end?
LANPHERI want to get back to both Peter Spiegel and Matt Levitt. But If I could just ask you, quickly, to respond to the idea floated by presidential candidate Ted Cruz, that police should increase surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods in the United States.
AHMEDYou know, Katherine, my feeling about this is this, that any decent, well-run house of worship would want some protection from the local police, simply because with this kind of situation in the world today -- not just in the United States or Europe -- there's so much tension around religion, any kind of religion. I mentioned the anti-Semitism in Europe, which has now reared its ugly head again. The Islamophobia, mosques are being attacked, women in hijab, et cetera. So it's a good thing to have that kind of protection. And if you're clean, you have no problems with it.
AHMEDBut this -- the way it's been suggested, I think, is not only very unpleasant, it's I think, frankly speaking, it's a slippery slope. If it's Muslims today, who are they going to recommend next? Will it be another minority community? We've seen these events in these big -- these campaigns and these processions and these talks that are taking place, where either a Muslim is being beaten up or an African-American is being punched, or even Jewish members are punched and told or abused and told to go back to Auschwitz. I mean, to me, this is all very uncomfortable. It's a slippery slope.
AHMEDSo when Ted Cruz says this, I don't think he has any idea of the Muslim community here. I don't think he's done any study. He just said the first thing that pops into his mouth. He thinks some people may support what he said. And apparently people do support what he's saying. But there are no Muslim neighborhood communities like in Europe -- Dr. Levitt will confirm this -- while you have certain communities living in ghetto-styles in Brussels or Paris, (word?) and Marseilles, in the United States, Muslims tend to be very spread out, distributed. You have some communities like in Dearborn, but that's about it.
LANPHERAnd that assimilation is key to why we don't necessarily have those problems here, right, Matt?
LEVITTYes. We have a much more assimilated minority population across the board, whether it's religious or otherwise. And that makes a huge difference. I think it's really important, after Brock's important point, to note, where does the role of radical religious ideology fit in here? It's not about religion. It's about ideology that makes people go and mobilizes people to engage in violence. In Europe, in particular, time and time and time again, we're seeing that the cognitive opening for this idea comes not originally from radical religious ideas, but from the criminal backgrounds, from the broken homes, et cetera. But then, that cognitive opening tends to be filled by these radical ideas.
LEVITTNot because the Islamic State is actually Islamic, but because it's carrying out its activities in the name and therefore it's radicalizing people and giving them purpose in life -- belonging, empowerment and purpose that they are drastically needing -- and it's providing them an ideology that mobilizes them to violence.
LANPHERWe're going to return to this conversation and return to your calls and questions. So please stay tuned. I'm Katherine Lanpher and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
LANPHERI'm Katherine Lanpher, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We are returning to our conversation about the terror attacks in Brussels that happened this week, and what it means for the future of security in Europe. We're going to go to Trey, who's joining us from Austin, Texas. Trey, welcome to...
TREYHi, thank you for taking my call. I have a question. My -- I often find myself defending the Syrian refugees, because I think there's a fear that ISIS is using them to funnel fighters into these countries, when really they're fleeing persecution from both ISIS and the Syrian government forces. So I was wondering, if there anything in the intelligence to back that ISIS is using the refugees to sneak fighters in? Or is it that because they're recruiting so heavily European nationals, that the European citizens are able to go to Syria, fight, and then return through more conventional means, like just getting on a plane or something, because of their citizenship status?
LANPHERI was gonna go to Peter Spiegel, standing by in Brussels...
LANPHER...for one answer to that.
SPIEGELUnfortunately, the intelligence community tells us that there is some truth to this, and it's a problem with this migration crisis that these things get sort of mixed together, because it is true that most of these people are European nationals, they're Belgian, they're French, but we have evidence both from documentary evidence that some of the Paris attackers came into Europe through Greece. We have the stamped passports and whatnot.
SPIEGELWe also have accounts from the -- some of the terrorists themselves, particularly Abdelhamid Abaaoud, again, the ringleader of the Paris attacks, who bragged about bringing, you know, dozens of sort of operatives with him through the Greece refugee influx. So they are using it as a way to infiltrate fighters, unfortunately. Now, the problem with this is, is twofold. One, suddenly everyone gets stigmatized, and you know, you have two crises going on at the same time and they get confused with each other.
SPIEGELBut the other problem with this is that there is a genuine -- in creating sort of a European passport scene environment, they created it without creating the infrastructure. You know, the U.S. will respond to September 11th by saying, okay, we are going to know everyone who enters our country, and everyone had to do fingerprints and everyone had to get these biometric passports and whatnot. The problem is, that was never created in Europe. And there's...
LANPHERPeter, I'm gonna stop you for one minute, because certainly this has been the topic in the presidential election, starting, you know, already now, and that has been that we haven't done that well enough. That, in fact, we might fingerprint everyone and we might talk to them. You still have, for instance, one of the suspects in the San Bernardino shooting. So you have, you know, much call here for making those things even tighter.
SPIEGELThere is -- I think there is no perfect solution on this, because I think the problem with all these discussions is there's this assumption that if we just had one silver bullet, we could solve this problem. And it's just not true, even from a purely security and defense point of view. The one thing I will say, in talking to some of the French intelligence, they had told me, it is very hard to secure your borders, when your border is Greece. And that is a problem that the U.S. just doesn't have. I mean, we have, after -- you know, we've had problems of our agencies not being able to talk to each other, the FBI and the CIA, but again, you know, multiply that by 28. The order of magnitude, the difficulties the Europeans have with this makes it a real, real challenge.
LANPHEROkay, thank you, Peter. I'm gonna go back to Matt Levitt.
LEVITTI just want to underscore what Peter said. I started my career in the FBI. There's no such thing as a hundred percent success rate. San Bernardino's an outlier. One person was born here, the other came here, and there was no evidence that person was radical before she came here. The real issue with the migrants and the refugees is you have this very large number of people who are moving, and the fear is, and the reality is that in very small numbers, some people are hiding within that population, some bad people hiding within the population.
LEVITTThe problem is it's not just a question with Greece, France, everybody, they like to point to Greece, and there's a lot of reason to do that. But again, the latest EU counterterrorism report out to member states stresses that this alarming number of member states have not instituted what is necessary to have electronic, immediate connectivity to the Europol databases at their border crossings, and so there's a lot more that has to be done across and within the EU, not just at Greece, to be able to have systems in place to be able to deal with the refugee and migrant crisis, and you can have systems like that, they're just not in place.
LANPHERI want to go back to the question of Molenbeek for a moment, and what measures need to be taken to help prevent people from becoming radicalized. Because I'm thinking of some reporting I read last fall where mothers, Muslim mothers in that Muslim enclave were saying, you know, if only the police had helped us more, we could have stopped our sons from going to Syria.
LEVITTYou know, I frequently hear that type of a comment, and it's a good comment to hear, because it means people want help, but when I was meeting with the police in Molenbeek, the chief and the counter-radicalization cell, they said that there are opportunities when they are welcomed, of course, but there are many opportunities when people don't want to talk to them at all, and it's not because of any religious issue, it's a cultural, ethnic issue. And these are things you don't talk about, period, let alone with people outside the family, outside the house.
LEVITTAnd there is a concern of many, especially newer immigrants, that are coming from parts of the world where a good day is a day where you don't have any interaction with law enforcement or officialdom, of having that type of interaction. And so they are, they're pushing themselves out there, trying to interact. They're knocking on doors, they're calling ahead, but they have many instances, one I heard of, a kid who approached them, wanted to talk to people. Two siblings had been killed in Syria. When the parents found out that this kid had approached officials, they freaked out. You don't talk to anybody else about that. And that was the end of the conversation.
LANPHERAkbar Ahmed, I could see you nodding your head. I know that you have a comment.
AHMEDWell, when the wise man speaks, I listen with respect.
AHMEDKatherine, you have to consider each one of these situations in a larger context. The larger context is the very definition of the Muslim community, all of Islam. So several things are being conflated. The issue of the refugees, the immigrants, terrorism, and Islam itself. And then all this feeds into a resurgent, right wing moment which is taking place right across United States and Europe, and that in turn feeds into this wider sense of Islamophobia going directly into attacks on women in hijab, mosques, individuals who may look Middles Eastern, which include sometimes, unfortunately, when Sikhs, they are attacked simply because they wear a turban or they have a beard.
AHMEDAnd this is something that really concerns me because you have thousands of Americans who are Muslim, who are proud Muslims who are serving in the army and the police, in various other offices. And they are feeling doubly under siege. They are feeling under siege because of this kind of Islamophobia, this kind of comment made my Ted Cruz that Muslim neighborhoods should be patrolled, because they are absolutely loyal, patriotic Americans. And also the fact that these violent acts are coming out of the Muslim community, and we seem to have no answers.
AHMEDIt's happening with repeated frequency, and they must be checked, because they're hurting everyone, especially the Muslim community.
LANPHERWe're gonna take another call. Let's go to Kim, who's in Greensboro, North Carolina. Hi, Kim.
KIMGood morning. Yes, I'd like to hone in on the conversation about marginalized communities and how they become kind of incubators of criminalization and aside from the incendiary comments of Ted Cruz, there is some resonance as far as not only gang violence and drug violence in Latino and African American communities, but I kind of want to see if your panel can discuss in a longer, historical view, for instance, Italian immigrants and the history of organized crime, the Mafia...
LANPHERKim, I'm gonna stop you for one minute. Are you a graduate student, by any chance?
KIMNo, I'm way past graduate school, thank you, but I'm originally from Chicago, and so that's why, yes, the discussion of marginalized communities and the law enforcement response and interaction with communities. But there's been so much discussion about African Americans, that I think it's getting lost and becoming a racial discussion rather than what some of your panel seems to be discussing, which is when you have communities of minorities, whether it's ethnic, religious or racial, the way the larger community does or does not respond has a lot to do with whether or not they then, the marginalized communities themselves then interact with law enforcement.
LANPHEROkay, so, Kim, to summarize, it sounds like you're saying what parallels are there between how the Belgium police treat Muslim communities, and how the U.S. police treat communities of color here. I'm gonna turn to our...
KIMIt's not just -- I would say not color, if they could talk about the, for instance, Italians and the mafia, so that it doesn't sound like a racial discussion.
LANPHERAll right. I'm gonna turn to our former FBI agent, Matt Levitt.
LEVITTAnalyst, not agent. But let me answer it this way. One of the things we have learned over these years is that from a law enforcement perspective, one of the most powerful tools we have is not arresting and, you know, tapping phones, but community policing. If you want to move the needle earlier in the process and get ahead of the radicalization curve, ahead of the marginalization curve, again, whatever the religion or ethnicity, community policing is extraordinarily important to help integrating people into community, to help ease their access to services.
LEVITTWe have done that in the United States, and are doing it even more. It's come up again now in terms of Black Lives Matter and the need to engage in that in communities that aren't as disperse. But in Europe, that's not as common. Again, Molenbeek. Molenbeek has come up in almost every Belgium counterterrorism case, clearly there's a need there, but that police department has had 185 vacant police officer slots. After the November attacks in Paris, they immediately got 50 new people. That's great. They're still down 135 slots.
AHMEDI asked the police there if some of these 50 officers were gonna be engaging in fulltime community policing, and they looked at me and said, we'd love for that to be the case, but I'm not gonna lie to you. We have so many needs, they can't do fulltime, but they'll do hopefully part time community policing. Well a community like Molenbeek desperately needs a large number of full time community police officers whose primary responsibility is not to kick down doors, but to help facilitate daily life in the community.
LANPHERSo it sounds like when Kim was saying, perhaps, this isn't a racial discussion, this is a discussion of how police treat communities. What you're saying is that could be true, but we just don't have the manpower?
LEVITTThere are communities where we don't have the manpower. There's communities where we don't have special training. The Belgians are cognizant of that. They've retrained upwards of 17,000 officers in some of these techniques now, so they're -- the past 15 months, really making a change. But you really need full staffing to be able to do this.
AHMEDI think it's also the philosophy of the administration, Katherine. Straight after 9/11, I had the privilege of being at the White House for a dinner organized by President Bush. It was the Iftar dinner, the annual Iftar dinner, and I was so impressed, because this was straight after 9/11, a lot of tension in the air, people not sure how to react to Muslims. And at this dinner, you had some of the leading Muslims in the United States, including the legendary W.D. Mohammed, one of the great leaders of not only the African American Muslims, but the general Muslim community.
AHMEDAnd you had the imam from Dearborn, all very committed to the idea of being American and being Muslim. And then there was a prayer, a prayer room separate -- demarcated for Muslims who are breaking the fast. I could not imagine this happening in France or Belgium. So it's an attitude to reach out to the community and say, hey, guys, you're part of us.
LANPHERYou are listening to the "Diane Rehm Show." And we're continuing our conversation. I'd like to share one of the tweets that we've received, which is, "more Muslims killed by Daesh last week than killed in Brussels, hardly a whisper in media. Islamophobia has kicked high, let's address." That was from Patricia. Peter Spiegel, I'd like to go back to you, standing by in Brussels, as you are the press representative we have here. And I'm sure that you've heard this many a time.
SPIEGELWe have. And in fairness, if you read today's Financial Times, we do cover these types of incidents. But look, we are the Western press. We write for Western audiences, and so when our readers are -- it's happening in their cities, we're gonna cover it more acutely than if it happens in areas that our readers are not. So I think that's just the nature of the business, to be honest with you. I'm not sure it lends itself to Islamophobia. But I wondered if I could jump in the conversation about community policing.
SPIEGELAnd I'm curious of Dr. Ahmed's thoughts on this, because one of the things that I think -- the earlier question about communities that are historically isolated. What happens within a generation or two in the United States is they actually move into the police force. You have, perhaps you have Italian gangs and Irish gangs in the 19th century. They move into the police force, are able to operate in their cities. One thing -- I lived in London. One thing I noticed was that the South Asian community was very successful in integrating to the police force.
SPIEGELSo you had Pakistani and Indian police in Scotland Yard, in the Met in London. You do not have that here in Europe, in the continent. And this is now, we're talking some of these communities, multiple generations of immigrants. Again, you know, these are Moroccan communities, but they are mostly born in Belgium. You do not see the presence of these ethnic communities in the police force, and so all these things we're talking about, in order to police, to sort of set up the community police, to get into the integrating into the society, to get people to talk to them, it's been striking to me here in Belgium in particular, it is incredibly white.
SPIEGELIt's frankly -- particularly Flemish, so they don't, sometimes they don't even speak the French language when they come into the communities. Britain seems to me has gotten a better angle on that. I'm curious if Dr. Ahmed agreed with that.
AHMEDYes, Peter, I agree with you, because I met the commissioner in London, the police commissioner, and I'm sure you met him, Chishty, with the Pakistani background, and he's a great success. He's a bridge between the community and the administration and the police. Many members of the House or Lords, members of Parliament, who are also Muslim with this background, this does not happen in Europe, I agree.
AHMEDAnd unless, as I said, the philosophy of administration changes, you'll continue to have an alienated community, vulnerable to all kinds of ideas, and needing to be brought in, integrated, assimilated into the larger community. That process needs to be accelerated. It hasn't even begun yet.
LEVITTI'll just say, it seems to be happening at least a little bit, this is not particularly mythological, but one of the officers that I met with in Molenbeek was a female Belgian police officer of North African descent. As a group of us were walking through Molenbeek, actually, she was the only one that was given any hassle at all, presumably because she was clearly a Muslim woman not covering her hair, and wearing jeans. On the tweet, I think it is really important to stress that Daesh, or the Islamic state, is killing more people in the region and more Muslims than anywhere else, and that says a lot about just how Muslim they are.
LEVITTI think it's equally important to state in a conversation like this that the Islamic state overall has got a long way to go to kill as many people, including of course Muslims, as the Assad regime has, according to the U.N. There's a nine to one ratio, and I think Assad is still very much part of the problem. Finally, just to give a sense of the gap that we're dealing with in places like Molenbeek, as I toured around, we started at the mayor's office, made a big loop around, and as we came back to the mayor's office from the other side, there's a picturesque kind of standard, European cobblestone courtyard.
LEVITTAnd on one side of the courtyard is the mayor's office, and on the other side of the courtyard is the home of Salah Abdeslam, the Abdeslam family. They're not there anymore, but window to window, there is nothing but air between them, and yet there is a world between them.
LANPHERI want to thank you all, gentlemen, for this conversation. And I want to thank you for calling in. Peter Spiegel joined us from Brussels, he's the bureau chief for the Financial Times. Akbar Ahmed is the chair of Islamic studies at American University, and his forthcoming book is titled "Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration and Empire." Matthew Levitt is the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
LANPHERThank you so much for joining us, I'm Katherine Lanpher, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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