Police operations carried out in Mons and Liege last week resulted in two brothers being arrested on suspicion of carrying an attack on the country.
One of the men arrested, named only as Nouredine H, 33, has ben charged over an alleged plot to attack Belgium. He is accused of attempting to commit a “terrorist murder” and participation in the activities of a terrorist organization and was arrested along with his brother Hamza H. Hamza H. has since been released from police custody without charge. The raids were carried out by federal police in the cities of Mons and Liege, with officials disclosing that no weapons or explosives were found during the operations. In a statement, the federal prosecution office disclosed that “based on provisional results from the investigation, it appears that there were plans to carry out an attack somewhere in Belgium.” The French version of the statement referred to “planning attacks” in the plural.
Belgium is currently on security alert level three, of four, effectively meaning that the threat is considered serious, possible and probable. In March, thirty-two people were killed after attacks were carried out on Brussels Airport and a metro station in the city. Last month, Belgian police disclosed that they had received warning that a group of so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters had recently left Syria and were heading to Europe to plan attacks in Belgium and neighbouring France.
In the wake of a train stabbing, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has warned that Germans should be prepared for further attacks carried out by small groups and radicalized “lone wolves.”
On 18 July, five people were wounded, two critically, by a 17-year-old who went on the rampage on a train in Wurzburg in the southern state of Bavaria. According to witnesses, the attacker, who has been named as Muhammad Riyadh, screamed “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) three times. Riyadh, who arrived in Germany last year as an unaccompanied migrant, was shot dead holding an axe and a knife. A video has since emerged, in which he states that he was a soldier of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Through its news agency IS has claimed that the teenager was a follower. Authorities found a hand-painted IS flag in his room.
Riyadh had only just moved to a foster family in Wurzburg from a refugee centre at Ochsenfurt, which is located south of Frankfurt. He was described as a quiet boy who had had a work placement in a bakery. He apparently did not display any radical behaviour. Questions however have been raised about whether he was really from Afghanistan, with reports emerging that a Pakistani document was found in his room. It is common knowledge that Afghan refugees are more likely to be given asylum in Germany than irregular migrants from Pakistan, so there have been many cases of migrants pretending to come from Afghanistan. Furthermore, several clues to his origin have also emerged from the video that he filmed before he carried out the attack on the region al train near his home. His use of the Pashto language suggests that he spent at least some time in Pakistan, because of his choice of words. When speaking of Syria, Riyadh chose to use the word Sham, a word that is commonly used in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, Pashto speakers would say Shuria. Furthermore, his choice of term for army is also key as he states, Fauj, which is common in Pakistan, rather than Aurdu, which is the word that is used in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister de Maiziere has since reported that the teenager had been “incited” by IS propaganda, adding however that there was no evidence that he was following the militant group’s orders. Furthermore, Riyadh was unknown to German intelligence agencies and no concrete link has yet been established with IS. The minister has warned that while the government is doing all it can in order to prevent such attacks, there could be no guarantee. The minister described Monday night’s attack as “perhaps half-way between running amok and terror,” adding that “in Germany, we must also expect attacks by small groups or radicalized ‘lone-wolf’ attackers.”
The attack has raised questions about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy. The attack is likely to deepen worries about so-called “lone wolf” attacks across Europe and could put political pressure on Merkel, who over the past year has welcomed hundreds of thousands of migrants to Germany. Unlike neighbouring France and Belgium, Germany in recent years has not been the victim of a major attack by Islamist militants, however security officials have disclosed that they have thwarted a large number of plots.
France’s National Assembly voted this month in order to extend the state of emergency for six months. The move follows the attack in Nice in which 84 people were killed and scores injured when a lorry was driven into crowds. It also comes after President Francois Hollande stated earlier this month, and prior to the attack in Nice, that he did not intend to extend the state of emergency beyond 26 July.
The latest extension effectively brings the state of emergency until the end of January 2017. It is the fourth extension that France’s parliament has proposed and the move must be approved by the Senate. The last extension was to cover the Euro 2016 football tournament and the end of the Tour de France cycling race.
As France continues to grapple with the growing threat from jihadist militants, Prime Minister Manuel Valls has warned that France must expect more deadly attacks despite precautions taken by his government. Speaking at the debate in the National Assembly, Valls stated that France would have to learn to live with the threat. He went on to say that “even if these words are hard to say, its my duty to do so…There will be other attacks and there will be other innocent people killed. We must not become accustomed, we must never become accustomed, to the horror, but we must learn to live with this menace.”
The state of emergency was initially brought in after terror attacks occurred in Paris in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed. That attack was claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. The emergency measures give the police additional powers to carry out searches and to place people under house arrest.
Questions however have emerged over what impact the emergency measures have had on the country. A recent commission of inquiry found that the state of emergency was only having a “limited impact” on improving security. It further questioned the deployment of between 6,000 and 7,000 soldiers to protect schools, synagogues, department stores and other sensitive sites.
French authorities have disclosed that they have identified the commander of the 13 November 2015 Islamist militant attacks in Paris. They have further disclosed that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was cornered and killed by police just days later, played a lesser role in the attacks.
Newly published official documents cite testimony by Bernard Bajolet, France’s head of external security, to a closed-door parliamentary inquiry into France’s anti-terrorism activities on 24 May. Bajolet however did not identify who authorities now think was the commander, nor did he disclose whether the person is alive or dead.
Abaaoud was initially described as the leader of the machinegun and suicide bomb attacks on the Bataclan music hall, Paris bars and restaurants, and the Stade de France, in which 130 people were killed. During the inquiry, Bajolet is quoted as stating, “it is true that Abaaoud was a coordinate, but he was not the commander…We know who the commander is, but I will stay discreet on that point,” adding, “we now have a good knowledge of the organogram…We have made progress on these subjects, we therefore have an idea of the identity of the commander.”
Last week, Parliament published recommendations of the inquiry, and on Tuesday 12 July, it released its full report.
In an audio recording two years ago, the so-called Islamic State (IS) group urged its followers to attack French people with vehicles.
A speech from the jihadists’ group’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al Adnani, encouraged devotees to turn to more basic methods of terrorism if they were unable to obtain guns or explosives. In the recording, he stated, “if you are not able to find a bomb or a bullet, then smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or crush him with your car, or throw him down a high place, or choke him, or poison him.” In his remarks, Adnani singled out “the spiteful French” amidst a long list of enemies, which was topped by “the disbelieving American” and their allies.
His September 2014 speech came shortly after a US-led coalition, which included France, launched airstrikes against the jihadist group’s strongholds. A month later, a man rammed his car into two Canadian soldiers in Quebec, killing one of them, in an attack that may have been inspired by Adnani’s recording. In December 2014, a man rammed a van into a crowd of shoppers at a Christmas market in Nantes, injuring nearly twenty people. That incident came just days after another driver rammed pedestrians in the central French city of Dijon, wounding about a dozen. However in both incidents, police refrained from calling the Dijon and Nantes incidents attacks because they said that both individuals had a history of psychiatric illness.
The method has become more common in various parts of the world, however many of the vehicles involved in such attacks are usually rigged with large bombs. In June 2007, two men in a burning jeep smashed into the main terminal at Scotland’s Glasgow Airport. One of the men was later jailed for life, with the judge describing him as a “religious extremist.”