The Belgian capital is no stranger to associations with terror, with tensions heightened following the devastating attacks in Paris in November that killed 130 people.
Explosions at Brussels’ airport and at a downtown metro stop killed at least 31 people and wounded scores of others on Tuesday. Belgium’s federal prosecutor confirmed that the explosions were terrorist attacks. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, SITE a U.S.-based organization that monitors terrorists’ activities online reported.
The blasts came days after terrorism police raided an apartment in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, leading to the arrest Friday of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the Paris attacks on the run for four months, and two other suspects. Abdeslam went on the run after terrorists launched the attacks at cafes, a rock concert and a stadium in the French capital. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility. Several of the Paris attackers lived in the Molenbeek neighborhood and police have carried out regular raids there in the aftermath of the assaults.
On March 15, Brussels police said a suspect was killed during an anti-terror raid on a home in the southern suburb of Forest and at least one gunman was on the run. AFP said the raid was aimed at people connected to one or several of the 11 Belgians who were charged in the Paris attacks.
In December, investigators found Abdeslam’s fingerprint as well as three belts that could be used to carry explosives during a search of an apartment in the Schaerbeek neighborhood of Brussels. Belgian officials said it was likely used as a bomb factory in the Paris attacks and as a hideout by Abdeslam.
Authorities appear to have focused predominantly on Molenbeek, an inner-city suburb in Brussels which has long been linked to terror, and been portrayed as a jihadist breeding ground.
A man who was subdued as he apparently prepared to open fire on passengers on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris in August was reported to have stayed in the neighborhood before boarding the train in Brussels.
The suspect in a shooting that killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014 also stayed there, and so did the members of a suspected ISIL terror cell in the eastern city of Verviers in January 2015, according to media reports.
One of the members of the group behind the train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 in 2004 was also from Molenbeek. Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon pledged to “clean up Molenbeek” after the Paris attacks.
Belgium has per capita the highest number of citizens in Europe traveling to fight in places such as in Syria and Iraq, according to a United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries. It estimated that 500 Belgians have left the country to fight.
SOURCE: Jane Onyanga-Omara