Posts Tagged ‘radicalized’

Imam in Spanish Town Emerges as Suspect in Barcelona Attack

August 21, 2017

Police focused on Moroccan national Abdelbaki Es Satty, who led a mosque in Ripoll, Spain

Photos: Many Dead After Van Attack on Barcelona Thoroughfare
People leave the cordoned-off area in Barcelona. A terrorist mowed down pedestrians with a van in the heart of Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday, killing at least 13 people and injuring scores in an attack claimed by Islamic State. Witnesses recalled their panic and shock.
PAU BARRENA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Aug. 20, 2017 8:12 p.m. ET

RIPOLL, Spain—An imam in northeastern Spain emerged as a prime suspect in the investigation of the terror attack in Barcelona as Spanish authorities look into whether he radicalized a group of young men and plotted with them to launch an even deadlier assault.

Spanish authorities said Sunday they are looking into Abdelbaki Es Satty in connection with the attack Thursday, when a terrorist drove a van into a crowd in central Barcelona and killed 13 people. Mr. Es Satty, a Moroccan national, was the former imam at a mosque in Ripoll, the hometown of most of the 11 others police suspect of involvement.

Josep Lluís Trapero, police chief in Catalonia, said investigators believe that the cell may have been conspiring for more than six months to carry out one or more bombings in Barcelona, but was aborted when gas canisters being used to build bombs exploded.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/imam-in-spanish-town-emerges-as-suspect-in-barcelona-attack-1503274339

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Barcelona attack: Moroccan imam at centre of Spain terror cell had links with Madrid bombers and Belgium

Investigation widening amid fears van driver may have fled into France

By Lizzie Dearden

The Independent

The imam believed to be the ringleader of the Spain attackers had links with the 2004 Madrid bombers and recently travelled to Belgium, it has emerged.

Investigators are piecing together the background of Isis supporters who launched two deadly attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils as the driver of the van used to kill 13 people remains at large.

Police say they cannot rule out the possibility that Younes Abouyaaquoub, a 22-year-old Moroccan who could be the only surviving member of the terror cell, has escaped into France and travelled onwards through Europe.

The investigation into the attacks has spread to several countries recently visited by attackers, including Morocco, France and Switzerland.

Belgian media reported that the suspected ringleader of the attack, Moroccan imam Abdelbaki Es Satty, spent at least three months in the country.

The mayor of Vilvoorde, once a notorious jihadi hub, confirmed Es Satty lived in the city from January to March 2016 – the month that saw Isis’ attacks launched in nearby Brussels – but the Belgian immigration minister said he was not registered with authorities.

Hans Bonte said Es Satty attempted to work at mosques in the city but was refused by community members who reported his arrival to the police.

ImamReuters

Abdelbaki Es Satty is believed to have been the ringleader of the terror cell

Belgian authorities said they contacted their Catalan counterparts for information but were told he was not known to be radicalised, De Redactie reported.

The imam is not believed to have been under surveillance by Spanish security services, despite his apparent extremist connections following a period in prison in 2012.

Acquaintances of Es Satty said he was not religious until being jailed for smuggling hashish and meeting Rachid Aglif, who was serving time for his part in the al-Qaeda inspired Madrid bombings.

In 2015 he started teaching at a mosque in Ripoll, the quiet Spanish town home to most of the Spain attackers.

Friends and relatives said the plotters, including a waiter and extreme sports instructor, appeared to lead normal lives until they started attending Es Satty’s sermons.

A woman who knew members of the cell said the imam repeatedly preached about jihad and killing “infidels”, adding: “I feel like I could have done something. I feel a little bit guilty now.

“Everybody knew it. It was an open secret. But I can’t say it because these people are dangerous and they could come after me. I don’t trust anybody now.”

spain-attacks-mosque.jpg
A building thought to have been used as a mosque by imam Abdelbaki es Satty (AFP)

Leaders of Es Satty’s former mosque denounced the terror attacks, but denied the preacher was anything other than “a normal imam”.

At least three sets of brothers and cousins were among the cell’s alleged members – a pattern previously seen among large groups of European foreign fighters joining Isis in Syria and in terror attacks including Paris, Brussels and Boston.

Only one, suspected van driver Abouyaaqoub, is known to remain alive after fleeing from the scene of the rampage that left 13 people dead and more than 100 injured on La Rambla.

Family members told Reuters that Abouyaaqoub started showing more religiously conservative behaviour within the past year, refusing to shake hands with women during a visit to his birthplace in Morocco in March.

They expressed shock and anger after discovering his alleged involvement in the Barcelona attack, with his mother, Hannou Ghanimi, telling reporters in she wanted her son to give himself up to police and would rather see him in prison than dead.

His brother, El Houssaine, and first cousins Mohamed and Omar Hichami were killed alongside Moussa Oukabir and Said Aalla by police in the second ramming attack in the resort town of Cambrils.

Es Satty was one of at least two plotters killed in an accidental explosion that destroyed a house they were using as a bomb factory in Alcanar on Wednesday night.

There are reports that possible bomb maker Youssef Aalla may have died in the explosion that wounded fellow plotter Mohamed Chemlal.

He has been detained alongside Driss Oukabir, Mohammed Aalla and Salh el Karib.

Police said traces of the volatile explosive TATP, used in Isis’ Manchester, Paris and Brussels attacks, was found alongside around 120 bottles of gas in the ruins in Alcanar.

Josep Lluis Trapero, the head of Catalonia’s police force, said the original plan to create huge vehicle bombs was foiled by the accidental blast, which rushed plotters into “rudimentary” assaults the following day.

“Our thesis is that the group had planned one or more attacks with explosives in the city of Barcelona,” Mr Trapero said.

He would not confirm that Abouyaaquoub was behind the wheel in Barcelona but confirmed that officials did not know where he or the driver are.

Asked whether Abouyaaquoub could have crossed into France, he replied: ”We don’t have any specific information on this but it cannot be ruled out.”

It would not be the first time a terrorist has managed to flee across borders in the immediate aftermath of an attack.

Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam was driven through a police checkpoint into Belgium on the night of Isis’ November 2015 massacres, while Berlin attacker Anis Amri managed to reach Italy before being shot dead by police.

Carles Puigdemont, the head of the Catalan government, denied reports that the CIA warned local police that Barcelona could be Isis’ next target.

Catalonia has become increasingly known as a centre of extremism, with almost one third of Isis-linked arrests in Spain made there, according to an analysis by a Spanish think tank.

A 2007 cable from the US State Department warned of the risk of radicalisation in Catalonia and called for a regional counter-terror hub to be set up in Barcelona.

The missive, which was later published by Wikileaks, said Spanish and American authorities had identified the region as a “major Mediterranean centre of radical Islamist activity” that had become a “magnet for terrorist recruiters”.

Officials said Catalonia housed al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam recruiters, as well as a terror cell including an unnamed imam arrested earlier that year.

The State Department cited men with a North African background at particular risk for radicalisation in “circumstances would provide fertile ground for terrorist recruitment”, adding: “The threat is clear.”

The cable described Catalonia as “a prime base of operations for terrorist activity” but claimed Spanish authorities had little intelligence on or ability to penetrate the groups.

Questions remain over how the cell of more than a dozen plotters were able to plan multiple and sophisticated terror attacks without detection, and on the extent of Isis’ involvement in the massacres.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/barcelona-attack-spain-cambrils-isis-latest-imam-abdelbaki-es-satty-madrid-bombings-belgium-a7903966.html

See also:

http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/843688/Barcelona-terror-attack-imam-Abdelbaki-Es-Satty-jihadi-ISIS-flat

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French Security Forces Now Top Targets of Islamic Radicals

August 10, 2017

PARIS — French soldiers taking part in Operation Sentinelle are the highest profile symbols of the fight against Islamic extremism — but along with other security forces patrolling French streets are increasingly the main targets of attacks.

Operation Sentinelle was created to guard prominent French sites after a string of deadly attacks in 2015. The soldiers’ status as representatives, and defenders, of the state, has put security forces in the line of fire. But experts offer other reasons, too, for why attacks in France have recently focused on heavily armed protectors.

No civilians have been attacked this year — although intelligence services have foiled seven planned attacks, France’s interior minister said recently. More than 230 people, many of them out for a night of fun, were killed in 2015 and 2016.

Islamic radicals may seek extra media visibility presumably afforded by going after emblematic targets or be tempted by the wish to die as a “martyr,” several experts said. Or they may want to up assurance of redemption with an especially “heroic” act in the ultimate stage of a life spent mainly in delinquency in which security forces were the top enemy, the experts added.

Knives, machetes, hammers and vehicles have been used in the seven attacks this year — in each case against security forces — despite France’s state of emergency. In the latest, on Wednesday, a BMW slammed into six soldiers as they left their barracks outside Paris for duty in what authorities said was a “deliberate” attack. The suspect, an Algerian living legally in France, was arrested after a highway manhunt and hospitalized with bullet wounds.

“We need to finally suppress the idea that there is a common profile for terrorists,” said Alain Bauer, a leading criminologist and security expert. But, he added, attacking security forces is “a la mode” now in France.

In 2015 and 2016, soft targets were more common, after a Syrian who served the Islamic State group as its high-profile spokesman and strategist before being killed urged sympathizers in Europe and the U.S. to launch attacks against civilians — “especially the spiteful and filthy French.” High-level attacks, from the November 2015 massacres in Paris to last year’s Bastille Day truck attack in Nice, followed, with 216 dead.

This year, one person, a police officer on the crowded Champs-Elysees Avenue, has been killed. One attacker died in a second incident on the avenue after his car laden with weapons caught fire after he rammed it into a convoy of gendarmes.

Not all the attacks were claimed by IS, and like the attacker who plowed his car into the soldiers, not all were French. Except for Wednesday’s car attack, the attackers chose tourist haunts — going after security forces, not the crowds.

A study released in March by the Center for Terrorism Analysis, or CAT, showed that France isn’t alone. Attacks on security forces have been a constant in the West. Between 2013 and 2016, a majority — 53 percent — of 72 targeted attacks, either carried out, attempted or planned, were aimed at society’s protectors. The study also showed that France, with the highest number of Western jihadis in Syria and Iraq, and largest Muslim population in Western Europe, was the most targeted Western country.

IS cites France’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition when claiming attacks in the country.

“They want to die as martyrs,” said Jean-Charles Brisard, president of the CAT center.

In November 2015, when teams of extremists stormed into Paris from Brussels and killed 130 people enjoying a weekend on the town, they “waited for intervention forces to arrive to die with weapons in their hands facing apostate forces,” Brisard claimed.

For another expert, Alain Rodier, a former intelligence officer, many French Islamic extremists who go after symbols of the state had spent much of their lives doing just that as small-time delinquents. In France, police and youth in tough neighborhoods have notoriously bad relations with authorities in uniform and some delinquents who radicalize repeat old habits, he said.

“In reality, they’ve transferred what they did before,” Rodier said. They are people who haven’t traveled to combat zones and take action “on their own initiative,” he said, adding that the notion of redemption also can also motivate the choice of targets. They are often fed by extremist preachers whose message is “the more heroic the action the more their sins are pardoned.”

Wednesday’s attack threw the spotlight on the Sentinelle force, currently 7,000-strong with half of its members posted in the Paris region. Some have questioned why soldiers are patrolling sensitive sights from train stations and airports to places of worship — when they have never stopped an assault since their deployment after attacks in January 2015 on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a Kosher grocery.

The soldiers are “a presence that reassures, protects,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Wednesday, but also symbols “and therefore direct targets.”

They are also magnets for attacks, Bauer said.

The force’s real purpose, Bauer said, is “just trying to convince your population that you’re safe … (and) let everybody go to work every day.”

Be they soldiers, police or gendarmes — all of whom have been attacked this year — the crucial determinant is media attention, according to Bauer.

“Terrorism is about communication and violence,” he said.

Paris gunman who killed police officer known to security forces — Spent 15 years in prison for shooting officers — On watch list after recent arrest — Informants last month said he was ‘seeking to obtain weapons to kill policemen’

April 21, 2017

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Paris Police secure the Champs-Elysees after one police officer was killed and another wounded in a shooting in Paris, France, April 20, 2017. REUTERS – Christian Hartmann

French security services are today facing troubling questions as to how they failed to prevent an ISIS gunman from slaughtering one policeman and wounding two other officers when he was already on a terror watch list.

Champs-Elysees killer Karim Cheurfi had been detained only last month, it has emerged, after informants said he was ‘seeking to obtain weapons to kill policemen’.

But the 39-year-old, who used the war name ‘Abu Yousuf the Belgian’, had to be released because anti-terror police did not have enough evidence to hold him.

The homegrown fanatic, who officials confirmed was a French national despite his nickname, had also been released early from prison – where it is thought he was radicalised – having been jailed for 20 years in 2005 for trying to kill two policemen.

Cheurfi opened fire five times with a .38 revolver following a car chase in 2001, leaving the officers and a third victim wounded.

He had fled on foot before the driver of the other car and the passenger – a trainee police officer – caught up with him. He fired twice, seriously wounding both men in the chest. All three survived the attack in Roissy-en-Brie, in the Seine-et-Marne department of northern France.

Cheurfi was arrested and placed in custody under a false name. Two days later he seriously injured an officer who was taking him out of his cell, seizing his weapon and firing several times.

Two French officials said this morning that Cheurfi was detained in February for threatening police before being freed, although a warrant for his arrest is dated March 6.

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The killer was known to security services in France, according to reports this evening

The killer was known to security services in France, according to reports this evening

One police officer was shot dead and two more seriously injured by a gunman carrying a Kalashnikov in Paris this evening

One police officer was shot dead and two more seriously injured by a gunman carrying a Kalashnikov in Paris this evening

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Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for France's Interior Ministry, confirmed that one police officer was dead and two seriously wounded following the 'targeted attack'

Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for France’s Interior Ministry, confirmed that one police officer was dead and two seriously wounded following the ‘targeted attack’

The arrest warrant issued for Cheurfi before he was detained at the beginning of last month

The arrest warrant issued for Cheurfi before he was detained at the beginning of last month

The ISIS killer is believed to have been released in 2016 following the triple assassination attempt, at a time when he was known for drug offences, car theft and robbery.

Despite having the nickname ‘Abu Yousuf the Belgian’, Cheurfi was a French national, Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon told public broadcaster VRT.

It has been claimed Cheurfi was making dark threats on messaging app Telegram before launching his attack on the Champs Elysees in Paris last night.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the atrocity, which was carried out with a Kalashnikov weapon. A female foreign terrorist was also injured when a bullet ricocheted off the police car before Cheurfi was shot dead.

The fatal incident unfolded as presidential candidates, including National Front party leader Marine Le Pen, debated on a TV show nearby before Sunday’s election.

French President Francois Hollande said he was convinced it was a terrorist attack, adding that he would hold a security cabinet meeting this morning.

The French-born killer lived in Chelles, a commuter town close to Paris in the Seine-et-Marne department.

In 2003 he was sentenced to 20 years inside a high security prison following the attacks in Roissy-en-Brie, also in Seine-et-Marne.

But he was let out early following an appeal ruling, giving him the freedom to carry out tonight’s attack.

Gunshot-like noise forces BBC crew in Paris to run off the street

WHAT IS TELEGRAM? THE APP ALLEGEDLY USED BY KILLER

The app makers have boasted of security settings which keep messages safe from 'snoopers'

The app makers have boasted of security settings which keep messages safe from ‘snoopers’

Telegram is a messaging app which focuses on speed and security, according to its makers.

It allows users to send messages, photos, videos and files to groups of up to 5,000 and broadcast to unlimited audiences.

A statement on Telegram’s website about security says: ‘Big internet companies like Facebook or Google have effectively hijacked the privacy discourse in the recent years.

‘Their marketers managed to convince the public that the most important things about privacy are superficial tools that allow hiding your public posts or your profile pictures from the people around you. Adding these superficial tools enables companies to calm down the public and change nothing in how they are turning over private data to marketers and other third parties.

‘At Telegram we think that the two most important components of Internet privacy should be instead:

  • Protecting your private conversations from snooping third parties, such as officials, employers, etc
  • Protecting your personal data from third parties, such as marketers, advertisers, etc

‘This is what everybody should care about, and these are some of our top priorities. Telegram’s aim is to create a truly free messenger, without the usual caveats. This means that instead of diverting public attention with low-impact settings, we can afford to focus on the real privacy issues that exist in the modern world.’

Cheurfi was the registered keeper of the grey Audi used in last night’s attack. A raid on his home later found guns and ammunition, intelligence sources said.

He had targeted a parked patrol car full of traffic control officers working to the Paris prefecture.

The officer killed was at the wheel and was having an evening snack at the time of his death.

French television network BFMTV reports that Cheurfi had used the Telegram internet messaging service, which extremists have previously been claimed to favour because of its encryption.

Police are searching the home of the shooter in eastern Paris, and following the attack French presidential candidate Francois Fillon has called for the election campaign to be suspended.

Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for France’s Interior Ministry, confirmed that one police officer was dead and two seriously wounded following the ‘targeted attack’.

He said a ‘car pulled up just after 9pm’ next to a police patrol car which was parked up on the busy avenue.

Police search the car reportedly used in Paris attack

Intelligence sources said the dead assailant was a known radical on a so-called S-file, for 'State-security'

Intelligence sources said the dead assailant was a known radical on a so-called S-file, for ‘State-security’

Police officers searched the home of the suspected gunman in east Paris following the attack in the capital on Thursday 

Police officers searched the home of the suspected gunman in east Paris following the attack in the capital on Thursday

Officers searched the home of the suspected gunman on Thursday evening after they travelled to his home in the east part of the capital 

Officers searched the home of the suspected gunman on Thursday evening after they travelled to his home in the east part of the capital

A man jumped out with a weapon and started firing indiscriminately into the police vehicle, hitting the unidentified officer who died directly in the head.

The assailant then ran off, pursued by other officers. Two of them were wounded as they killed him.

Mr Brandet said ‘all lines of investigation were being pursued’, while intelligence sources said the dead assailant was a known radical on a so-called S-file, for ‘State-security’.

This means he would have been under surveillance, because he was a known risk to the country.

Mr Brandet later said a possible accomplice had turned himself over to Belgian police, but it was ‘too early to say’ if he had played a significant part in the attack.

President Hollande, speaking from the Elysee palace close to the scene of the shooting, said: ‘A national tribute will be paid to this policeman who was killed in such a cowardly way.

‘A passerby was hit. The assailant was neutralised by other police officers. The entire area has been cordoned off. The people present have been evacuated.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4430542/Paris-killer-talked-wanting-kill-Telegram.html#ixzz4esXKdx3z
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Updated 9:35 PM ET, Thu April 20, 2017

Paris (CNN)  A man who killed a police officer on the Champs-Elysees Thursday night was known to French security services for radical Islamist activities and had shot and wounded an officer in the past, a source close to the investigation told CNN.

The suspect, who was shot dead by French police, was the subject of a “Fiche S” surveillance file and was on the radar of the French domestic security service DGSI, the source said.
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The man was a French national who shot two officers in 2001 after being stopped by a police car, the source said. He was taken into custody but while being questioned grabbed another officer’s gun and shot him three times, the source said. He was convicted in that attack and had a criminal record because of involvement in violent robberies, the source said.
The source said French investigators now believe this was in all likelihood a terrorist attack. They believe there was just one attacker, and the danger is likely over, the source said.
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ISIS issued a statement saying an Islamic State “fighter” carried out the attack. The ISIS claim comes via a statement released by the group’s media wing, Amaq. The ISIS statement identified the attacker and called him “the Belgian.” CNN has not confirmed the attacker’s association with Belgium.
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Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said he will reveal the shooter’s identity on Friday at a news conference. He said officers are searching the man’s residence in Chelles, Seine-et-Marne, a Paris suburb, and are trying to determine if he had accomplices.
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The shooting has not officially been declared a terrorist act but anti-terrorist forces are leading the investigation, French President Francois Hollande said.
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“The people who were present have been evacuated and we are convinced that the leads which point us to this case, and which will allow us to uncover the truth, are of a terrorist nature,” he said.

Elections on Sunday

The shooting happened about 9 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET) when a car stopped at 102 Champs-Elysees in front of a police van, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre Henry Brandet said.
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A man emerged from the car and opened fire on the van with an “automatic weapon,” killing one officer instantly, he said. The man “then ran away, managing to shoot and wound two other policemen. Other policemen engaged and shot and killed the attacker,” Brandet said.
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The slain officer was 30 years old, Molin said. One of the wounded officers was critically injured but is improving, he said. Also wounded was a female tourist.
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The shooting shut down the famed Champs-Elysees, one of Paris’ top tourist attractions and home to the iconic Arc de Triomphe monument. The avenue was clear of residents and tourists but teeming with security officers Thursday night.
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It comes three days before French voters start elections for a new president. Candidates went ahead with a debate Thursday night.
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France has been in a state of emergency since the 2015 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead. Parliament voted in December to extend the extraordinary provisions to ensure the protection of upcoming presidential and general elections.
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Security has been tight because of the vote. Just two days ago French authorities arrested two men in Marseille who were allegedly planning an attack in a run-up to the election.
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Police officers block access to the Champs-Elysees.

At least three underground train stations of the Paris Metro — the Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau, George V and F. Roosevelt stations — have been “closed off” near the site of the police operation on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, BFMTV reported.

Trump: ‘What can you say?’

Paris resident Daoud Kal, 29, said he was walking in the area near a metro station when he heard four to five shots. He looked around, but couldn’t identify where the shots were coming from. People panicked and ran away from the scene and he joined them.
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The CNN Paris bureau is on this street and staffers reported hearing a dozen shots. At least 20 police vehicles were seen on the street.
Officers could be seen forcibly removing innocent citizens from the area as they attempted to get them to safety.
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President Donald Trump, speaking at a news conference in Washington with the visiting Italian Prime Minister, offered condolences to the people of France after the shooting, saying it “looks like another terrorist attack.”
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“What can you say? It never ends,” the President said.
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The Champs-Elysees is a main road lined with restaurants, cafes, exclusive designer boutiques and tourist shops. At one end is the Arc de Triomphe, surrounded by a several-lane-wide roundabout, and the other end stops at the Place de la Concorde, known for its obelisk monument.
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The presidential palace, the Elysee, is a few blocks away.
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French police tweeted, “Police intervention underway in the area of the #ChampsElysees avoid the sector and follow the instructions of the police forces.”

French candidates respond

The US State Department put out a cautionary tweet, saying: “If you’re in #Paris, monitor local news. #ChampsElysees has been closed. Authorities are telling people to avoid the area after a shooting.”

One police officer was killed in a shooting on the Champs-Elysees.

The shooting comes three days before French general elections and Paris was already in a state of heightened alert. French politicians immediately reacted on social media.
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French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen tweeted, “My emotions and solidarity for the police, once again targeted.”
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Conservative French presidential hopeful Francois Fillon tweeted, “Paying homage to police who give their lives to protect ours, #ChampsElysees.”
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Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve tweeted: “Paying homage to the policeman killed on the champs elysees. Thoughts are with his family. Solidarity with his injured colleagues and those close to them.”
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Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy tweeted: “To our law enforcement: support, strength, courage. They are paying again a heavy price. Our Nation’s tribute must be total NS”
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Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted: “We won’t give up, not bow and remain united facing these odious and insidious threats that weigh on our cities.”
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She also extended a message of solidarity and thanks to the retailers on the Champs-Elysees who gave people shelter during the attack.
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This developing story has been updated to clarify details about the attacker’s nationality.
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http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/20/europe/champs-elyses-in-paris-closed/

Arrest of Islamic State-linked guard puts Malaysia airport security under spotlight — “A classic case of an insider threat”

February 13, 2017

13 Feb 2017 14:16

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s airport security has come under scrutiny following last month’s arrest of an airport security guard for suspected links to the Islamic State (IS).

He is believed to be the second airport personnel to be arrested by the Royal Malaysian Police in the past two years, a development counter-terrorism police and experts called a concern.

While initial investigations showed he was not planning any terror attack, he had plans to go to Syria to join IS, according to police.

SUSPECT HAD “FULL ACCESS … TO MALAYSIA AIRLINES AIRCRAFT”

The suspect was a security guard at Kuantan airport and had been responsible for Malaysia Airlines aircraft safety. “The suspect’s scope of duties… for the airline’s safety operations was anti-pilferage, anti-sabotage, anti-hijacking,” Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, deputy commissioner of the Royal Malaysia Police Special Branch’s counter-terrorism unit, told ChannelNewsAsia.

“He had full access to… Malaysia Airlines aircraft, including the cockpit, to carry out inspections.” He was also responsible for sealing and locking up aircraft parked overnight at the airport until they took off the next day, said Mr Ayob.

The suspect had worked at Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Kuantan airport in Pahang since October 2015, according to police. Prior to that, he had worked for Malaysia Airlines from September 2004 to September 2015 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

“It is dangerous to have someone turn radical who has access to an entire airport and its aircraft,” said Mr Ayob.

“You must remember that IS had called for those who are not able to travel to Syria to conduct attacks in their home countries,” he added.

Counter-terrorism expert Associate Professor Kumar Ramakrishna, who heads policy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies called the incident a “classic case of an insider threat” where airport security may be compromised by radicalized “insiders working within the system”.

“The Russian Metrojet crash in the Sinai desert in October 2015 claimed (by IS) is one example of how deadly insider threats can be,” Mr Kumar added. An aircraft mechanic was believed to have planted the bomb on the Russian Metrojet, killing 224 people on board.

Asked whether IS was targeting people who work in strategic places for recruitment, Mr Kumar said: “This is not the first time such insiders have been identified. In addition, as ISIS comes under strategic pressure in the Middle East, it has called upon its supporters worldwide to conduct lone wolf attacks wherever they are, and some of these lone wolves could well be self-radicalized insiders such as airport workers, commercial pilots and military personnel.”

In 2015, an auxiliary police officer at KLIA was arrested for helping his brother-in-law, an IS member, pass through immigration checks to go to Syria.

SECURITY SCREENING FOR AIRPORT EMPLOYEES

Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), which operates KLIA, told ChannelNewsAsia its employees’ airport security passes are issued for only one year.

All employees are required to resubmit an application for an airport pass each year when the current one expires, said an MAHB spokesperson.

Applications for the airport passes are vetted by the Chief Government Security Office (CGSO), which is responsible for security over all government assets, said MAHB.

“MAHB works very closely with CGSO and PDRM (Royal Malaysia Police) in ensuring the security and safety of the airports,” said MAH’s spokesperson.

Malaysia Airlines told ChannelNewsAsia that newly recruited staff and key staff from selected departments undergo stringent background checks and recurrent checks conducted by the CGSO.

“We (also) require staff and vendors to attend security awareness briefings which is part of the Malaysia Airlines’ security programme, which includes subjects on… security processes and insider threats,” said Malaysia Airlines.

EMPLOYERS SHOULD LOOK OUT FOR SIGNS OF RADICALISATION

Associate Prof Kumar said screening of employees in sensitive jobs needed to be conducted more frequently.

“Screening… must be done more regularly, perhaps once every six months… as individuals can become radicalised after the initial screening process. This would entail additional time and resources but I believe we have little choice given how the threat has become more complex over time,” said Mr Kumar.

Mr Ayob also called for supervisors to pay greater attention to their staff to identify red flags and early signs of radicalization, especially for staff working in sensitive positions.

He said that supervisors should look out for red flags such as if an employee frequently fails to turn up for work without a good reason, or starts to distance him or herself from other staff.

Mr Ayob added that supervisors should also look out for early signs of radicalization. Radicalized individuals may express hatred towards those who do not share their views and spend long periods chatting on social media platforms such as Facebook and Telegram at the onset. They may also challenge authorities, promote violence or possess IS related symbols such as the IS flag, said Mr Ayob. IS supporters are also known to liquidate their assets to raise money to fund their passage to Syria.

“Supervisors tend to see this as a security issue to be handled by the police, hence such monitoring is currently lacking,” said Mr Ayob.

Malaysian police currently conducts security check on new applicants entering the civil service, military, police force, airlines and airport service.

“After the applicants get the job, their supervisors are responsible for monitoring them,” said Mr Ayob. He also suggested that employees working in critical places should have their smartphones checked.

“There is also a need to monitor senior employees. When they joined years ago, IS did not exist,” said Mr Ayob.

Europe Remains on Edge After “One Islamic State attack every 84 hours” — Will The “Refugees Welcome” Sign Come Down?

July 31, 2016

‘One ISIS attack every 84 hours’ spurs dread and anger in Europe – CNN.com

Abandoned gear used by Syrian refugees to cross the Aegean Sea to Lesbos. Photo by Giulio Pisitelli, Redux

Germany: After four savage attacks by Muslims in one week, Germans are living with more anxiety, fear

July 26, 2016

  • After four terror attacks in just one week, Germans are today living in fear
  • Spared the fate of Paris, Brussels and Nice, Germans thought they were safe 
  • DANIEL JOHNSON on the after-effects which will be felt across Europe

No emotion is more potent in politics than fear. After four terror attacks in the space of just a week, Germans are today living in fear.

No end to the nightmare is in sight.

And the after-effects will be felt across Europe.

Bavaria has borne the brunt of this wave of violence, because it was the main entry-point for the million or more migrants who arrived last year.

Attack: Police restrain the Syrian refugee who hacked a pregnant woman to death

Attack: Police restrain the Syrian refugee who hacked a pregnant woman to death

Two of the terrorists were evidently Islamist fanatics. The other two may have had other motives, but all four were Muslims and two were from Syria.

Particularly disturbing was the latest attack by a Syrian suicide bomber, who failed to gain entry to a music festival, where he would have caused untold carnage.

He had been refused asylum yet still allowed to stay in Germany.

This suggests the German bureaucracy cannot cope, though yesterday officials rushed to insist he had been due for deportation to Bulgaria.

In any case, ordinary Germans have had enough of these attacks – the first serious terrorism they have faced since the far-Left Baader-Meinhof gang wrought havoc nearly four decades ago.

Having been spared the fate of Paris, Brussels and Nice, Germans thought themselves safe. Now they are in shock and increasingly angry.

It is reported that police are investigating over 400 cases of asylum-seekers with possible terrorist connections.

Even before these attacks, at least two thirds of Germans believed Chancellor Merkel’s ‘open door’ policy last year was a mistake.

Uncontrolled immigration and open borders are now their major concerns. German politicians who poured scorn on the British for voting to regain secure borders over Brexit have gone strangely silent.

Munich attack: The Munich shooter boasted ‘I am German’ as he mowed people down in a McDonald’s and a shopping centre

Munich attack: The Munich shooter boasted ‘I am German’ as he mowed people down in a McDonald’s and a shopping centre

Equally vexing is the problem of integrating the millions of migrants already in Germany. They have been treated with generosity, but patience is wearing thin.

The Afghan asylum-seeker who turned on passengers with an axe on a train last week had been living with a German foster family.

The Syrian who slaughtered a pregnant woman near Stuttgart with a machete had a job.

The Munich shooter boasted ‘I am German’ as he mowed people down in a McDonald’s and a shopping centre. His parents may have been Iranian but he had enjoyed the same privileges as other young Germans.

Having lived in and reported on Germany for a number of years, I have grown to love the country and its people.

Their efforts to set the world an example of democracy and tolerance, while never forgetting the Nazi past, are admirable.

Yet it was a misplaced desire to show the world this liberal face of modern Germany that led Angela Merkel to impose her disastrous migration policy on Europe, and to offer an open door to all refugees from Syria.

The result was one million people – most of them economic migrants, and not refugees from war-ravaged Syria at all – entering the country in 2015 alone with more still arriving.

The pressure all this is placing on ordinary Germans is becoming intolerable to them.

Most Germans are deeply patriotic, but understandably –given their country’s Nazi past – they abhor nationalism.

In many ways they prefer to see themselves as European rather than German. Yet Europe is now seen as a problem which facilitates the flow of migrants and potential terrorists.

Until now, Germany’s default position to any problem has always been ‘more Europe’ or closer integration. It is a position being trumped by the overriding need for security.

This need, an abiding aspect of the German psyche, reflects the fact that the wartime legacy of destruction and occupation runs very deep.

There is a reason why ‘angst’ is a German word, and it does not take much to bring such anxieties to the surface.

When hundreds of women were attacked in Cologne by gangs of migrants on New Year’s Eve, the public reaction was seismic.

The machete attack took place in the city of Reutlingen and came two days after the Munich shopping mall shooting

The machete attack took place in the city of Reutlingen and came two days after the Munich shopping mall shooting

What gave the backlash its vehemence was the folk memory of 1945, when up to two million German women were raped by the Red Army. (Stalin’s only comment on his Army’s barbaric behaviour was: ‘We lecture our soldiers too much.’)

Most victims never spoke about it, but the national trauma has never been forgotten.

Along with Germany’s desire to be seen as a liberal, multicultural country, this reminder of the past explains in part why the authorities seemed in denial over the attacks.

Cologne police force was accused of deliberately hushing up the scandal. Broadcasters were forced to apologise for failing to report it.

The fact is that post-war Germany, while presenting its liberal face to the world, has failed successfully to absorb the Turks and other Muslims who make up a high proportion of inner-city populations.

Despite a thriving economy and a generous welfare state, third-generation immigrants usually remain ‘foreigners’ in the eyes of their German neighbours. The refusal of many Muslims to adopt German values is exacerbated by a multicultural approach that even Mrs Merkel admits has been a disaster.

Officially, Germany remains wedded to the right of free movement enshrined in the EU treaties. In its most radical form, this right underlies the Schengen Agreement.

Comprising 22 of the EU’s member states, the borderless Schengen area is supposed to be the EU’s proudest achievement.

Since the migration crisis erupted last year, however, seven of these countries have reimposed some form of border controls.

Germany has strict checks on its border with Austria, for example, to control the influx of migrants from south-eastern Europe.

As fear of terrorism spreads across the Continent, such controls are being extended. Non-EU nationals entering the Schengen area are supposed to be checked thoroughly before being issued with a visa that entitles them to travel within it.

But the presence of thousands of potential terrorists already within the area makes it increasingly risky to allow uncontrolled movement across internal borders, even for EU citizens. Schengen was moribund even before Germany came under attack.

The European political elites remain so wedded to the principle of free movement they were willing to sacrifice British EU membership rather than compromise.

But in Germany, the most powerful country in Europe, that principle is increasingly unsustainable in the face of public opinion that demands border security at all costs.

On the BBC yesterday, German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel criticised Mrs Merkel for irresponsibly encouraging refugees to come to Europe without regard for the consequences.

A polic officer in protective gear inspects a back pack used to carry an explosive device at the scene of a suicide attack in the southern German city of Ansbach

A polic officer in protective gear inspects a back pack used to carry an explosive device at the scene of a suicide attack in the southern German city of Ansbach

He even accused her of inadvertently helping the Brexit campaign, which claimed many refugees accepted by Germany might end up in London.

Many Germans now agree with this critique of Mrs Merkel, however proud they may be of her international stature.

She has survived for nearly 11 years –largely because, in the words of the poet and humorist Hilaire Belloc, modern Germans ‘always keep ahold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse’.

But they are now coming to terms with a new cautionary tale, this time about the risks of inviting strangers into your house.

Mrs Merkel’s guests have certainly made themselves at home in Germany – but long after ‘Mutti’ (or ‘Mummy’ – Merkel’s nickname) has moved on, her compatriots will be left wondering how many more just want to burn the house down.

Germans are not going to put up with living in fear. If such terror attacks continue, it seems increasingly likely that the country may abandon Schengen altogether.

Were that to happen, open borders would be a dead letter – as would the cherished principle of free movement.

Indeed, so powerful is this border anxiety in Germany today that it could bring the whole edifice of the European Union crashing down.

  • Daniel Johnson is the editor of Standpoint.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3707950/Four-savage-terror-attacks-Germans-sink-EU-DANIEL-JOHNSON-country-living-fear.html#ixzz4FVv7NYWR
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Afghan Refugee That Attacked Fellow Passengers With An Axe on a German Train Had an Islamic State Flag Where He Lived — Hong Kong family in the middle of “a slaughterhouse”

BBC News
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Germany axe attack: Assault on train in Wurzburg injures Hong Kong family
.
Police stand by regional train on which man wielding axe attacked passengers in Wuerzburg, Germany, 18 July 2016
The attacker fled the train but was chased and shot dead by police. EPA photo

A teenage Afghan refugee armed with an axe and knife injured four people on a train in southern Germany before being shot dead by police, officials say.

Three people in a group from Hong Kong were seriously hurt and one slightly injured in the attack in Wurzburg. Another 14 were treated for shock.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said the attacker was killed as he tried to flee the scene.

The motive for the attack is not yet clear.

The South China Morning Post said it was believed the four injured were a 62-year-old man, his 58-year-old wife, their daughter, 27, and her boyfriend, 31. The 17-year-old son travelling with them was not hurt, it said.

A source told the paper the father and boyfriend had tried to protect the other members of the group.

‘Exclamation’

Mr Herrmann said the attacker was a 17-year-old Afghan refugee who had been living in the nearby town of Ochsenfurt.

He told public broadcaster ARD that the teenager appeared to have travelled to Germany as an unaccompanied minor.

Bloodstains on the floor of the train carriage. 18 July 2016

Bloodstains could be seen on the floor of the train carriage. EPA photo

Mr Herrmann said authorities were looking into reports that the attacker had yelled out “an exclamation”. Some witnesses quoted by German media said they had heard him shout “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) during the attack.

‘Slaughterhouse’

The incident happened at about 21:15 (19:15 GMT) on the train which runs between Treuchlingen and Wurzburg.

“Shortly after arriving at Wurzburg, a man attacked passengers with an axe and a knife,” a police spokesman said.

Police said the attacker had fled the train but was chased by officers who shot him dead.

German emergency services in the area where a man with an axe attacked passengers on a train near the city of Wurzburg, Germany. July 19, 2016

Emergency services sealed off the area of the attack. Reuters

One local man told DPA news agency that the train carriage where the attack took place “looked like a slaughterhouse”.

He said he saw people crawl from the carriage and ask for a first-aid kit while other victims lay on the floor inside.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has condemned the attack. Immigration officials from the city will accompany family members to Germany.

Although the motive has not been established, the BBC’s Damien McGuinness in Berlin says there is nervousness in Germany about attacks by Islamist extremists following the attacks across the border in France.

In May, a man reportedly shouting “Allahu akbar” killed a man and wounded three others in a knife attack at a railway station near the German city of Munich.

He was later sent to a psychiatric hospital and authorities said they had found no links to Islamic extremism.

map showing Wurzburg location in central Germany

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36827725

Afghan Refugee That Attacked Fellow Passengers With An Axe on a German Train Had an Islamic State Flag Where He Lived — Hong Kong family in the middle of “a slaughterhouse”

July 19, 2016
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Shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest)
Tue Jul 19, 2016 4:13am EDT

REUTERS — A hand-drawn Islamic State flag was found in the room of the axe-wielding Afghan refugee who attacked passengers on a train in southern Germany, a senior state official said on Tuesday.

The 17-year-old severely wounded four passengers before police shot him dead late on Monday, days after a Tunisian delivery man plowed a 19-tonne truck into crowds of revelers in the southern French city of Nice, killing 84.

The case is likely to deepen worries about so-called “lone wolf” attacks in Europe and could put political pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel who welcomed hundreds of thousands of migrants to Germany over the past year.

Bavarian state Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said it was still too early to say whether the Afghan youth was a member of Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the French attack, or any other militant group.

Two of those injured in the attacks were in a critical condition and several of the injured included members of a Chinese family, he added, without giving any further details.

MOTIVES

At least one witness reported that the attacker, who had been living with a foster family in the nearby town of Ochsenfurt, had shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), Herrmann told ZDF television.

“All of that has to be put together in a large mosaic as to what his motivations were, and to what extent he can be counted as an Islamist, or to what extent he radicalized himself in recent times,” Herrmann said. “We are pursuing every piece of evidence.”

Herrmann told the Bayerischer Rundfunk radio station in a separate interview that the attacker had come to Germany as an unaccompanied minor about two years ago.

He started attacking his passengers with an ax and a knife as the train was approaching its last stop, the Bavarian city of Wuerzburg.

He fled after the emergency brake was pulled and was pursued by a police unit and shot dead when he tried to attack the officers, officials said.

The South China Morning Post said the injured passengers were from Hong Kong.

Unlike neighbors France and Belgium, Germany has not been the victim of a major attack by Islamic militants in recent years, although security officials say they have thwarted a large number of plots.

Germany welcomed roughly 1 million migrants in 2015, including thousands of unaccompanied minors. Many were fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber and Noah Barkin and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-attacks-germany-idUSKCN0ZY2LA

Related:

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BBC News
.
Germany axe attack: Assault on train in Wurzburg injures Hong Kong family
.
Police stand by regional train on which man wielding axe attacked passengers in Wuerzburg, Germany, 18 July 2016
The attacker fled the train but was chased and shot dead by police. EPA photo

A teenage Afghan refugee armed with an axe and knife injured four people on a train in southern Germany before being shot dead by police, officials say.

Three people in a group from Hong Kong were seriously hurt and one slightly injured in the attack in Wurzburg. Another 14 were treated for shock.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann said the attacker was killed as he tried to flee the scene.

The motive for the attack is not yet clear.

The South China Morning Post said it was believed the four injured were a 62-year-old man, his 58-year-old wife, their daughter, 27, and her boyfriend, 31. The 17-year-old son travelling with them was not hurt, it said.

A source told the paper the father and boyfriend had tried to protect the other members of the group.

‘Exclamation’

Mr Herrmann said the attacker was a 17-year-old Afghan refugee who had been living in the nearby town of Ochsenfurt.

He told public broadcaster ARD that the teenager appeared to have travelled to Germany as an unaccompanied minor.

Bloodstains on the floor of the train carriage. 18 July 2016

Bloodstains could be seen on the floor of the train carriage. EPA photo

Mr Herrmann said authorities were looking into reports that the attacker had yelled out “an exclamation”. Some witnesses quoted by German media said they had heard him shout “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) during the attack.

‘Slaughterhouse’

The incident happened at about 21:15 (19:15 GMT) on the train which runs between Treuchlingen and Wurzburg.

“Shortly after arriving at Wurzburg, a man attacked passengers with an axe and a knife,” a police spokesman said.

Police said the attacker had fled the train but was chased by officers who shot him dead.

German emergency services in the area where a man with an axe attacked passengers on a train near the city of Wurzburg, Germany. July 19, 2016

Emergency services sealed off the area of the attack. Reuters

One local man told DPA news agency that the train carriage where the attack took place “looked like a slaughterhouse”.

He said he saw people crawl from the carriage and ask for a first-aid kit while other victims lay on the floor inside.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has condemned the attack. Immigration officials from the city will accompany family members to Germany.

Although the motive has not been established, the BBC’s Damien McGuinness in Berlin says there is nervousness in Germany about attacks by Islamist extremists following the attacks across the border in France.

In May, a man reportedly shouting “Allahu akbar” killed a man and wounded three others in a knife attack at a railway station near the German city of Munich.

He was later sent to a psychiatric hospital and authorities said they had found no links to Islamic extremism.

map showing Wurzburg location in central Germany

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36827725

FBI ‘highly confident’ that Orlando shooter was ‘radicalized’: Comey

June 13, 2016

AFP

© AFP | Investigators work at the Pulse nightclub June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said Monday agents were “highly confident” that Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was “radicalized,” at least in part through information he found online.

James Comey said it was still not clear if Mateen was part of an established extremist network or which group may have inspired him, but he told reporters: “We’ll leave no stones unturned and we’ll work all day and all night to understand the path to that terrible night.”

Forty-nine people were killed and 53 others wounded in the shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the early hours of Sunday. Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group during the attack, was killed in a shootout with police.

Terror in Brussels — We All Knew Molenbeek Had Seceded — There is an ideological battle going on — Manifestation of a European failure that has to be faced

April 12, 2016

CBS News

BRUSSELS — Nearly overnight, one of Europe’s major cities was transformed and it seems no one was able to stop it. Brussels’ reputation as a lively city known for beer and chocolate has been eclipsed by the dark shadow of terrorism.

The attacks at the city’s airport and subway on March 22 were a painful coda to November’s deadly Paris attacks: many of the assailants who had carried out that massacre grew up in Brussels and now radicals from those same communities turned to a new target – their neighbors.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombings that left 32 dead and hundreds injured. The extremist group’s ability to recruit in Belgium has been prolific. The country exports more foreign fightersto Syria and Iraq per capita than any other country. And it’s no fluke that ISIS picked Brussels as its terror recruiting ground, according to Michael Privot, the director of the European Network Against Racism.

Several European cities are just a quick train or drive away from Brussels, making it an ideal outpost for terror groups to plot and carry out attacks.  CBS NEWS

“If I was in the shoes of Daesh, I would establish myself in Brussels,” said Privot, referring to ISIS by an alternate name. “It’s really very practical in terms of connections and the fact that you can easily disappear in a very diverse population.”

Brussels’ geography allows terrorists easy access to some of Europe’s major cities: Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, just to list a few. But its location isn’t the only explanation to why it has become such a ripe target for radicalization.

“It’s a series of factors,” said Tewfik Sahih, a lifelong Schaerbeek resident. “The first one is socio-economic.”

 

The districts of Molenbeek and Schaerbeek, which make up what’s known as the “poor croissant” of Brussels, are home to a large population of Moroccan and Turkish immigrants. In Molenbeek, it’s estimated that 1 out of 2 young men of Moroccan origin are without a job.

“When you have no life objectives, no long-term objectives, you try to find your quest for self elsewhere,” said Sahih. “Many people feel discriminated [against] here. Some citizens here don’t feel part of the national community.”

The average age of Belgium jihadists ranges from 20 to 24, according to analysis by the Brussels-based Egmont Institute, a think thank specializing in international relations. Two of the Brussels terrorists were Belgian-born brothers of Moroccan descent: Brahim el-Bakraoui, 29, and Khalid el-Bakraoui, 27. Both had spent time in prison for violent crimes.

Mohamed Azaitraoui works with juvenile delinquents in Brussels, including those at risk of being radicalized. He explained that radicalization does not happen in official mosques because the mosques would be denounced and face problems from the police. Instead, recruiters work the streets and the internet.

brusselsguard.jpg

“They choose someone who is available first, someone who has hate for the West,” he said. “They prey on international conflict and use atrocious images of children to say, ‘Look, our cause is to fight for the weak.’ The recruiters are very welcoming and offer financial help. The young people look at them as a savior and become indebted so that when they’re asked to go and commit and attack, they’ll say yes.”

Geraldine Henneghien is the mother of one of these young Belgian men who fell for the trap. Her son Anis became an ISIS recruit and wound up dead in Syria.

“The persons, they destroy my family, now they destroy my country,” said Henneghien, who is part of a growing group of families whose children have left for Syria

brusselsgeraldine.jpg

Since CBSN last spoke to her in December of 2015after the attacks in Paris, Henneghien has been busy speaking to young students at schools to warn them of the perils of radicalization. As hard as it is for her to relive the death of her son, Henneghien believes it is her duty to expose the fraud the recruiters shill out.

“The young people we meet in school, they say, ‘Oh we didn’t know that it was so and now we know the truth,'” said Hennighen.

For the moment, Henneghien and the other parents are self-funding their efforts but hope to get financial aid from the government.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/terror-in-molenbeek-schaerbeek-brussels-belgium/

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The Islamic State of Molenbeek: A heavily Muslim district of Brussels has in effect seceded 

By Roger Cohen

BRUSSELS — There are military trucks parked in Molenbeek, and soldiers with submachine guns patrol the jittery streets of the Brussels district that has been the epicenter of European terrorism in recent months. On the Place Communale idle youths loiter, shooting glances at the police. This is where the Paris and Brussels attacks, with their 162 dead, overlap.

Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving direct participant in the Paris attacks, hid in Molenbeek before his arrest on March 18. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected chief planner of the Paris attacks, lived in Molenbeek. In all, at least 14 people tied to both attacks were either Belgian or lived in Brussels.

One of them is Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian of Moroccan origin who grew up in Molenbeek and was arrested in Brussels on Friday. He has told the police he is “the man in the hat” caught on surveillance cameras leaving Brussels airport after two accomplices blew themselves up on March 22. Cameras also placed him in Paris last November with the Paris attackers.

Sleepy Brussels: goodbye to that image. Yet even today there’s something soporific about this French-speaking city marooned within Flemish-speaking Flanders, beset by administrative and linguistic divisions and the lethargy that stems from them, home to a poorly integrated immigrant population of mainly Moroccan and Turkish descent (41 percent of the population of Molenbeek is Muslim), and housing the major institutions of a fraying European Union.

It is hard to resist the symbolism of the Islamic State establishing a base for its murderous designs in the so-called capital of Europe at a time when the European idea is weaker than at any time since the 1950s. A jihadi loves a vacuum, as Syria demonstrates. Belgium as a state, and Belgium as the heart of the European Union are as close to a vacuum as Europe offers these days.

Belgium — a hodgepodge of three regions (Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia and Brussels), three linguistic communities (Flemish, French and German) and a weak federal government — is dysfunctional. That dysfunction finds its most powerful expression in the capital, where Flemish geography and French culture do not align. The administrative breakdown assumes critical proportions in Molenbeek, the second-poorest commune in the country, with 36 percent of people younger than 25 unemployed.

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Roger Cohen tells us “There is a vacuum. Vacuums are dangerous. The answer is a reformed, reinvigorated and stronger Europe.”

Please Read the rest:

Belgians seize key suspects in Paris, Brussels attacks

April 9, 2016
World | Fri Apr 8, 2016 8:33pm EDT

Police officers detain a suspect during a raid in which fugitive Mohamed Abrini was arrested in Anderlecht, near Brussels, Belgium, April 8, 2016 in this still image taken from video.
REUTERS/SEBASTIEN DANA-KAMRAN VIA REUTERS TV

Belgian police detained two key suspects on Friday in the Islamic State attacks on Paris and Brussels as operations go on to track down militants who have fought with or take direction from leaders in Syria.

Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian thought to have helped prepare the Nov. 13 bombing and shooting attack that killed 130 people in the French capital, was held with two others, prosecutors said. They were trying to confirm that he was also the “man in the hat” seen with the Brussels airport suicide bombers on March 22.

Aged 31, Abrini was seized close to the Brussels borough of Molenbeek, where he was long known to police for petty crimes.

Earlier, police seized a man prosecutors named only as Osama K., and who local media said was a Swede named Osama Krayem. The prosecutors said Krayem, detained with another man, was checked by German police in October using a fake Syrian passport in a car rented by Salah Abdeslam, prime surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, who was detained in Brussels three weeks ago.

Krayem is suspected of being the man seen on CCTV with a suicide bomber before he struck the Brussels metro on March 22 and of buying the holdalls used by the attackers that day.

The arrests mark a signal success for Belgian security services, which have faced fierce criticism at home and abroad since Brussels-based militants organized the attacks in Paris and, four months later, those in the Belgian capital that killed 32 people, four days after the arrest of Salah Abdeslam.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon, who offered to resign over the failure to arrest one of the Brussels suicide bombers last year, tweeted congratulations to those involved in the arrests, as did the Belgian head of state, King Philippe.

But there was no change in the national security alert level and Jambon added: “The struggle against terrorism goes on.” Police searched premises in western Brussels late on Friday.

Belgium has struggled to contain a threat from hundreds of young men, many with chequered criminal histories and from the country’s substantial Moroccan immigrant community, who have traveled to Syria. For the size of its 11 million population, Belgium has the biggest contingent of Islamist foreign fighters.

“MAN IN THE HAT”

The arrests came a day after police issued new images of “the man in the hat” seen on airport cameras walking through the terminal with Brahim El Bakraoui and Najim Laachraoui.

These two would detonate the heavy bags they were pushing on trolleys but the third abandoned his bomb and was tracked walking for miles on CCTV back from the airport into the city, all the while his face hidden by glasses and a floppy hat.

Police have also been hunting a man seen with El Bakraoui’s younger brother Khalid at a Brussels metro stop shortly before the latter blew himself up on a train at Maelbeek station.

Prosecutors did not confirm media reports that Krayem, using a Syrian passport in the name of Naim Al Ahmed, had arrived back in Europe from Syria last September on a refugee boat that landed on the Greek island of Leros, off the Turkish coast. He came, reports said, with another man carrying fake Syrian papers who was arrested with Abdeslam in Molenbeek on March 18.

Abrini, who local media said may have spent time in Syria last summer, has been on Europe’s most wanted list since December. That was when he was identified from security camera footage at a motorway service station driving with Abdeslam toward Paris from Belgium two days before the Nov. 13 attacks.

The car they were in was later used in the attacks, in which Abdeslam’s elder brother was a suicide bomber. Prosecutors also said Abrini and Abdeslam rented an apartment that was used by several of the militants before they struck in Paris.

Abrini, nicknamed “Brioche” for his work in a bakery, was a regular at a Molenbeek bar run by the Abdeslam brothers and which police shut down last September after complaints of drug deals.

Abrini’s fingerprints and DNA were found in two Brussels apartments, including the one from where three men, including the two bombers, took a taxi to the airport on March 22. It was later found to have been used as a bomb-making factory.

(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and James Dalgleish)