Author: Doaa’ Elnakhala

1   Political & Security Context 2

2   Nature of the threat 2

3   Belgian Counter-terrorism Institutions  4

4   Belgian Counter-terrorism Legislation  9

5   Belgian Counter-terrorism Strategy and Tactics  11

6   Conclusion  18

1     Political & Security Context

Similar to other European countries, Belgium has a rather long experience with terrorism. Yet, the 22 March 2016 attacks were considered the worst ever known to Belgium. The latter attacks claimed the lives of 32 civilians and injured several hundreds. Between 1970 and 2014, over 140 terrorist attacks were perpetrated in Belgium, causing the death of 40 people and the injury of 230. Expectedly, the Belgian counter-terrorism capabilities have been significantly increased after the attacks of 9/11. More recently, Belgium has introduced 30 counter-terrorism measures in the context of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels in 2015 and 2016.

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2     Nature of the threat

Identified as vulnerable to terrorism, Belgium faced four main sources of threat.

2.1  Returnees

Return of terrorist foreign terrorist fighters who are currently in Syria and Iraq is a security concern in many European countries. These fighters are EU citizens who left for Syria or Iraq, where they received training and indoctrination by terrorist groups, such as the so-called Islamic State (IS). These fighters may return to Europe to conduct terrorist attacks. In fact, this threat first materialized in 2014 when a French citizen who returned from Syria shot and killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Belgium is one of the top four EU countries that have supplied foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. Indeed, according to a 2017 Europol report, Belgium has the highest number of fighters on a per capita basis. The

Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (OCAM) figures from late 2016 indicate that during that year, 270 Belgians had left to Syria, of whom 110 were killed and 160[1] were still there. As of January 2017, about 20 of those combatants were negotiating conditions of their return with the authorities. In Belgium, activities usually conducted by returnees, such as receiving training by terrorist groups, recruitment for such groups, and incitement, are considered criminal offences. Not all returnees resort to terrorism and at least some seek rehabilitation and reintegration in the society.

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2.2  Radicalization

Radicalization of marginalized groups is considered a serious source of threat in Belgium and its neighbors. In fact, 2015 and 2016 have demonstrated how home-grown terrorists in Europe can be as dangerous as experienced fighters, if not more. It is important to recall however, that not all those radicalized resort to violence. Two types of radicalization were identified in Belgium, religious and social. Religiously, well-funded mosques with Salafist and Saudi Wahhabist ideologies are particularly active in radicalizing young people around the country. Additionally, the internet and the TV have been instrumental in spreading such ideologies. Social radicalization disseminates among the youth in marginalized neighborhoods, e.g. Molenbeek. The number of youth being radicalized in such neighborhood is on the rise. Frequently, those radicalized are former members of criminal networks involved in drug trafficking, and smuggling. To them, radical Islam is a form of identity rather than a belief system.

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2.3  Virtual Caliphate

A successful and functioning jihadi project, like that of the so-called IS, can attract fighters from all over the world, even if the physical caliphate falls. This entails having the so-called IS lose territory on the ground does not mean a decline in recruitment and support. Images and videos from the so-called era can be employed to build a powerful narrative for propaganda and recruitment, which in turn would enhance radicalization and violent extremism. Knowing that the internet is a central tool in the process, Belgium is still to launch focused efforts on cyberspace to monitor this narrative, and possibly build effective counter-narratives.

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2.4  Extremist Networks

Several Jihadi networks are present in Belgium and neighboring countries. Such networks have been involved in terrorist acts, recruitment and incitement. Several of such networks were dismantled by the authorities. For instance, a judicial process targeted 45 members of Sharia4Balgium, established in 2010 by Fouad Belkacem. They were tried in February 2015 despite the fact that only seven were present before the court. Another example is Kahlid Zerkani’s network, which started with Zerkani recruiting young Muslims to fight in Syria and Iraq in 2012. Zerkani himself was arrested in early 2014 and 31 members of his network were indicted, mostly in absentia, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the Paris attacks organizers. Many several other networks are present on the ground and there are serious concerns about new attacks orchestrated by such groups.

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3     Belgian Counter-terrorism Institutions

The Belgian political system is multi-layered into federal, regional and local governments. Institutions from all these three levels are involved in counter-terrorism.  Generally, Belgian counter-terrorism apparatuses are overseen by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. In addition to the military, the police and the intelligence agencies, Belgium has a large number of governmental bodies, which are involved in counter-terrorism at different levels. Although coordination and cooperation among these institutions is repeatedly emphasized, Belgian counter-terrorism agencies suffer from problems with coordination, which is, in part, a result of the large number of involved institutions.

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3.1  Intelligence Institutions

3.1.1  Intelligence services

Traditionally, terrorism was the responsibility of the intelligence services in Belgium but more actors became involved in counter-terrorism activities, especially after 9/11. The Belgian intelligence services are two: civilian and military. The civilian intelligence service is known as State Security while the military is known as the General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS).

Back to top            State Security

With personnel of about 600 people, State Security is under the responsibility of the minister of Justice and the minister of Home Affairs and operates inside Belgium. State Security is more involved in counter-terrorism efforts than the military intelligence service. It carries out missions like collection and analysis of information on any threat to the democratic, constitutional and welfare state, such as terrorism, extremism, espionage, proliferation, sectarian organizations, and criminal organizations. It also informs other governments of the presence of such threat. State Security is in charge of screening procedures and provides assistance and technical support for judicial investigations.

Back to top           General Intelligence and Security Service

GISS is under the responsibility the minister of Defense and is part of the Belgian Armed Forces. It operates outside the Belgian territory and is primarily specialized in collection and analysis of intelligence on any activity that forms a threat to the national territory, the military defense plans, the performance of the roles of the armed forces, or the security of Belgian nationals abroad. GISS is also in charge of the security of the Defense personnel, military installations, military secrets and the scientific and economic institutions. Moreover, it usually responds to cyber-attacks. For instance, GISS attempts to track individuals in Syria and other countries.

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3.1.2  Financial Intelligence Unit

Belgium’s Financial Intelligence Unit (CTIF) is an independent administrative authority with a legal character, supervised by the Ministers of Justice and Finance. It tracks and investigates reports of financial crimes, including money laundering and terrorism financing. CTIF has broad authorities to conduct inquiries and refer criminal cases to the federal prosecutors. According to CTIF’s 2015 annual report, of the 1,131 financial crime cases that CTIF referred to prosecutors, 37 were potentially connected to terrorism financing, which is 2.14% higher than the year before.

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3.2  Federal and Local Police

The two branches of the Belgian police, the federal and the local or the zonal are considered two separate forces. However, they are integrated by functional instruments, such as common planning cycle, shared educational programs, common databases, etc.

The federal police are under the responsibility of the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Justice. It is in charge of supra-local and complex public disorder and crime. The federal police currently have five counter-terrorism units, including one for Brussels and another for Antwerp. The federal police work closely with the Belgian intelligence services.

The local or zonal police force is in charge of Belgium’s 196 zones. Each of these zones has an average of 3 municipalities. Such police force deals with local and less complex forms of crime and public disorder. They focus on preventive tasks and fall under the responsibility of the mayors.

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3.3  The Military

Following the Paris and Brussels attacks in 2015 and 2016, the military was commissioned with security tasks related to counter-terrorism. 1,800 soldiers were deployed on the ground in major Belgian cities. One of Belgium’s 30 counter-terrorism measures allowed domestic deployment of the army when the threat level is raised. Additionally, the Belgian military participants in the international coalition against the so-called IS. As of mid-2016, Belgium participated to the coalition with six F-16 aircrafts and 120 support personnel. Moreover, about 30 Belgian military trainers participated in training programs near Baghdad Airport. In 2015, Belgium allocated US $56 million in humanitarian support for Iraq and Syria. The Belgian armed forces were also involved in a number of other counter-terrorism operations, including the NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan of 2015, the EU Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali and UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

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3.4  Public Prosecutor’s Office

The Public Prosecutor’s office is very important for counter-terrorism investigations. They are assisted by several official institutions, including the judicial police. Belgium has 12 federal magistrates focusing on counter-terrorism. As soon as the concerned file is brought to justice, the prosecutor’s office takes the lead. The judicial authority and intelligence services can be working on the same case at the same time.

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3.5  Political Institutions

3.5.1  Regions and Communities

The regions are less involved in counter-terrorism efforts but their social and economic activities are important for preventive efforts. The Brussels region coordinates security policies, usually by adopting a prevention and security plan. This takes place in the form of a radicalization unit that facilitates the job of local prevention agents working on radicalization and provides relevant training. The Brussels unit is known as BRAVVO Brussels. The Communities, in their turn, are in charge of youth education, social cohesion and cultural activities, which also involve de-radicalization efforts. In Wallonia for instance, the Community has created an anti-radicalization network. A hotline was also set up, through which a professional can be contacted and average people can report suspicious activities.

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3.5.2  Municipalities

An increasing number of municipalities have one or more employees dealing with radicalization. Such personnel act as contact points for the federal and regional authorities, as well as the public. Primarily, they monitor radicalized individuals and their families. Municipalities with high rates of radicalization, such as Molenbeek, Antwerp and Vilvoorde, tend to recruit more personnel in such position.

Back to top           Local Cells for Integral Security (LCIS)

The Integrated Local Security Policy (ILSP) is implemented at the municipal level. According to ILSP, security requires multidisciplinary collaboration among different professionals. Usually, the local administration authority decides if it would coordinate such policy with the police, in addition to other municipal and civilian initiatives, such as municipal services, employment and health-care programs, social housing, schools, etc. Through ILSP, different municipalities established Local Cells for Integral Security (LCIS) in 2014 that are specifically focused on counter-terrorism. The Cells are multidisciplinary consultative platforms, which deal with information sharing, particularly regarding Foreign Terrorist Fighters originating from Belgium (See section also 3.6.3 below for municipal cooperation with CAPREV).

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3.6  New Institutions

3.6.1 Coordination Unit for Threat Assessment (CUTA)[2]

Set up in 2016, CUTA is a coordination agency that also acts like a dissemination center. Specifically, CUTA coordinates analyses of the threats and sets the threat level, which is used by all agencies involved in combating terrorism. CUTA receives information from legal support services. CUTA’s primary goal is to bridge the gap in information sharing among official institutions involved countering terrorism and radicalization. CUTA personnel have the mandate to analyze individuals and to categorize them under different groups, such as those classified as foreign fighters.

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3.6.2  National Security Council (NSC)

NSC was established after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks. NSC is one of the structures created by the Belgian 30 counter-terrorism measures that will be discussed below. The council is headed by the Prime Minister, who is commissioned to defining the general intelligence and security policy, fostering coordination and determining the priorities of the intelligence and security services. Council members are the Ministers of Justice, Home Affairs, Defense and all the Belgian vice Prime Ministers. Various other actors can participate in NSC by invitation, such as directors of intelligence, judicial or police services. Additionally, the NSC is in charge of coordinating the fight against the financing of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. A “Foreign Fighters” task force and a “Returnees Platform” have also been created within NSC.

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3.6.3  Network for Management of Extremism and Violent Radicalism

Established in January 2016 by the Federation of Wallonia-Brussels, the Network provides support for the citizens and professionals in the prevention of violence, extremism, and violent radicalism. The Network is composed of two services: Center for Assistance and Care of all persons concerned with Extremisms and Violent Radicalisms (CAPREV)[3] and the Resource and Support Center. CAPREV provides a hotline[4] to receive calls from citizens and professionals requesting guidance.

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4     Belgian Counter-terrorism Legislation

Belgium deals with terrorism within the confines of the criminal law. In response to terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, Belgium broadened and strengthened its counter-terrorism legal framework, specifically its Criminal Code, by introducing special provisions in its legislation.

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4.1  Belgian Criminal Code

Long before the 2015 and 2016 terrorist attacks of Paris and Brussels, the Belgian legal system treated terrorism as a criminal offence. Since the end of 2003, several provisions of relevance to terrorism were added to the Criminal Code. These include, the Terrorist Offences Act of 2003, which was the first Belgian law to directly criminalize terrorism, particularly Article 66(3) of the Criminal Code. Also under the criminal law, Article 140bis was introduced in February 2013, which criminalized any person who diffuses ideas or messages to incite for terrorist acts. Additionally, Article 140ter of the Criminal Code, as amended in 2013, criminalized recruitment for terrorist purposes. Article 137 of the Criminal Code defined a terrorist offence as an offence which may cause serious harm to a country or an international organization with the aim of seriously intimidating a population or unduly forcing public authorities or an international organization to take or refrain from taking certain action.

In the aftermath of the Paris and Brussels attacks of 2015 and 2016, the existing legal framework was amended by Belgium’s counter-terrorism 30 measures, which resulted in modifying the Belgian Criminal Code and Belgian Criminal Procedure. The Act of 20/07/2015 criminalized travelling abroad for terrorist motives. The same law has also broadened the scope of special investigative methods, e.g. wiretapping, to include all terrorism offences classified as criminal under Belgian law. It has also enlarged the range of cases in which Belgian nationality can be revoked. Revocation of nationality was backed by the Act of 10/08/2015, which modified the consular code to authorize the refusal, withdrawal or invalidation of passports of individuals who are perceived to be a threat to public order or national security.

Currently, there is a bill before parliament that would expand the powers of intelligence services by adding a revision to the Criminal Code that allows intelligence services to use new investigative methods, such as voice recognition and broadening the scope of wiretapping. The same bill also includes conducting house searches, 24 hours a day in cases of suspected terrorism.[5] Recently, the duration of administrative detention in terrorism investigations was extended from 24 to 48 hours.

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5     Belgian Counter-terrorism Strategy and Tactics

5.1  Counter-terrorism Strategy

Although the Belgian authorities did not announce an official counter-terrorism strategy, Belgian responses to terrorism can be can be described as a mix of prevention, protection and repression. Yet, prevention seems to take the center stage in counter-terrorism. Prevention became important following reforms of the Belgian police in the late 1990s when a new official strategy was adopted, namely Community-Oriented Policing (COP). This strategy relies on establishing ties between the police and members of the community. This involved partnership between law-enforcement agencies and different organizations, including community members, service providers, private businesses and the media. COP falls within the mandate of the local police and is employed as a mechanism of prevention of radicalization, built on confidence of the citizens in public services.

As part of the EU Commission Action Plan, the Community Policing Preventing Radicalization and Terrorism (CoPPRa) program was introduced in 2010. In fact, this program was led by the Belgian police and is implemented in cooperation with 11 EU member states. CoPPRa provides a manual that enables officers to track signals of radicalization at an early stage.

Additionally, Belgian counter-terrorism is guided by an action plan, a national security plan, and a circular. First, the action plan against radicalization and violent extremism was set in 2005 and was revised in 2015. This plan is known as ‘Actieplan Radicalisme,’ or (Plan R). The Belgian authorities have decided for a resolutely holistic approach to terrorism, where prevention, repression and duty of care go in tandem.

Second, Belgian counter-terrorism tactics are also guided by the National Security Plan (2016-2019) (NSP), entitled Together to the heart of the matter and The Integral Safety Note. Both were proposed by the Ministers of Justice and Security and Home Affairs, and approved by the Council of Ministers. The Plan was prepared under the supervision of the Commissioner General of the Federal Police and was published in June 2016 by the Belgian federal police. It emphasizes integral cooperation by the police forces and their partners in the security chain. The plan details specific objectives and actions for the police for the same groups of phenomenon developed in the Integral Safety Note. The Integral Safety Note identified ten groups of security phenomenon that are considered political priorities. These include radicalization, violent extremism and terrorism, cybercrime and cybersecurity.

Third, the August 2015 Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) circular also guides the Belgian counter-terrorism efforts. This circular was published by Minister of Security and Home Affairs and Minister of Justice. Some of the main goals of this circular are to define the manners to tracking FTF, to improve and facilitate the flow of information to local authorities and partners, systematizing such flow, collaboration and cooperation between concerned local and federal agencies. The circular provided a customized analysis of the threat imposed by each FTF based on information collected from the different services and stored in a single database to be used by the police, intelligence services and other parties (, 2015; Ministre de la Justice Koen Geens, 2015).

It is important to recall that the Belgian combat against terrorism is also guided by several EU level guidelines, including the Council of Europe’s counter-terrorism strategy. This strategy is set to “combat terrorism globally while respecting human rights, and Europe safer, allowing the citizens to live in an area of freedom, security and justice.” To do so, it relies on four main pillars. First, to prevent people from resorting to terrorism by addressing the causes of radicalization and recruitment both in Europe and internationally. Second, to protect citizens and infrastructures and reduce vulnerability to attacks. Third, to pursue and investigate terrorists domestically and abroad in order to impede planning, travel and communications, to disrupt support networks, obstruct funding and access to attack materials, and bring terrorists to justice. Fourth, to respond by improving capabilities to deal with the aftermath of an attack, coordination of the response, and the needs of the victims according to this strategy, member states, including Belgium, are responsible for fighting terrorism based on this four-faceted strategy.

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5.2  Counter-terrorism tactics

By relying heavily on the criminal justice system, Belgian counter-terrorism tactics set a precedent that excludes particular practices, such as indefinite detention without trial or unethical interrogation methods. Doing so provides legitimacy to the Belgian government’s actions. Overall, counter-terrorism efforts have been receiving increasing funding and resources. For 2016 alone, Belgium allotted an extra €400 million euros for the fight against terrorism. Specific measures to stop the flow of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and dealing with those who have returned from Syria and Iraq have been introduced.

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5.2.1  30 measures against terrorism

A series of 30 measures dedicated to increasing the efficiency of the fight against terrorism were announced by the Belgian authorities. These measures were released in two sets. The first is a package of 12 counter-terrorism measures, released in January 2015 right after the Charlie Hebdo and Vincennes Hypercasher terrorist attacks and the joint Belgian-French police operation, a few days later in Verviers, Belgium. During the latter operation, a terrorist cell plotting for an attack was dismantled. The second is a set of 18 measures announced in the days following the Paris terrorist attacks November 13, 2015.

As of March 2017, 26 of these measures were implemented or are on-going. The remaining measures were still at a nascent stage and may never be executed due to technical reasons and issues of applicability. The Belgian 30 measures are grouped under four sub-groups: the legal framework, structures/infrastructures, criminal policy, and information gathering/sharing. The first and second groups are discussed earlier under the previous sections on the legal framework and institutions. The third and fourth will be detailed here.

Back to top           Dealing with returnees

A group of the 30 measures targets the returnees. The Belgian government has already declared its intentions to systematically deprive the returnees of their liberty upon arrival. So far, the Belgian authorities have dealt with the problem of returnees on a case-by-case basis with a precise risk evaluation for each foreign fighter. Nevertheless, the rising number of returnees is likely to exhaust available resources. The investigation of the 22 March attacks revealed that the General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS) is understaffed and overloaded. Many of those who already returned were sentenced to jail and more are likely to join them. Yet, in general, it is unclear how the Belgian authorities would deal with the issue of radicalization in prison, an already existing problem that was exacerbated with the influx of the returnees. So far, Belgium is still to decide on a de-radicalization and disengagement model.

Back to top           De-radicalization Efforts

A portion of the Belgian 30 counter-terrorism measures are dedicated to countering radicalization. Among those measures, the “Plan Canal” of the Belgian Ministry of Home Affairs focuses on eight municipalities in Brussels and its environs to monitor communities vulnerable to radicalization. The “Plan Canal” is being implemented together with a reviewed “National Action Plan against Radicalization” of 2005. The latter action plan aims at enhancing cooperation between the federal state and federal entities. Both plans allow detention of hate preachers, in addition to imposing house arrests and deportation. In addition to mosques, the plans also aimed at detecting and dismantling unrecognized and hidden places of worship that propagate radical or jihadist ideas. This policy affects websites disseminating hate by shutting them down.

The relationship between prison and radicalization has received great attention in Belgium. New prison sections were established to house radicalized detainees so that they would be kept from spreading their ideas. Currently, prison personnel are being trained to improve both their awareness about radicalization during imprisonment and the efficiency of professional care for those convicted of terrorism related offences.

Back to top           Security Measures

Some of Belgium’s 30 measures are directly linked to security. These include use of the military for security duties since January 2015. This was demonstrated in the “Brussels lockdown” of 21-25 November 2015 and was significantly augmented after the Brussels terrorist bombings of March 2016; more than 1,800 soldiers were deployed in major cities. Finally, the security measures are also to be used to freeze assets used for terrorism financing. Additionally, the Belgian police carried out several hundred raids, detentions and stops and searches, especially in Molenbeek, the Brussels neighborhood that was a home or a stop to many of the Paris and Brussels attackers. These actions resulted in the conviction of 43 suspects and charging 72 others for terrorism-related crimes by November 2016.

As part of the security measures, Belgium has expanded cooperation with several other countries. For example, in 2015, Belgium worked closely with other Schengen states and Turkey to improve information sharing and interdict prospective foreign fighters travelling to Syria. Furthermore, all new Belgian passports now contain biometric data.

Back to top           Information

Knowing that the Belgian government is multi-layered and has a complex structure, optimization of exchange of information amongst relevant administrative and judicial services involved in counter-terrorism has been at the center of attention since the 2015 terrorist attacks. Therefore, CUTA was established to compile all data on radicalization and terrorism emanating from various services. CUTA has also created a dynamic database to collect specific information about Foreign Terrorist Fighters, which became fully operational in September 2016.

The Belgian authorities decided to have a Belgian passenger name  record to centralize information initially of passengers travelling by plane and later by high-speed trains and boats. Several other tactics of relevance to information have been implemented, including introduction of new screening tools to be used for checks on the Belgian borders, monitoring of imams and mosques and their financing, and access to “sensitive” jobs.

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5.2.2 Grass-root Initiatives

Local authorities and communities have been involved in counter-terrorism initiatives that were launched on that level, and are believed to have the most impact. Apart from specific measures to prevent radicalization, the Belgian government is fully engaged into the creation of an inclusive society where everybody feels at home and gets the same opportunities.

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5.2.3  International Cooperation

Belgium is involved in different counter-terrorism international and European initiatives. Different officials have stressed intentions to continue being involved in such different initiatives.

Back to top           EU Level

Belgium in involved in several counter-terrorism initiatives at the European and international levels. Such engagements are coordinated by the FPS Foreign Affairs. At the EU level, Belgium cooperates closely with other member states and EU-institutions. It also adopted the EU counter-terrorism strategy in 2005 and the global EU approach to fighting terrorism and radicalization in 2015. Moreover, Belgium ratified the largest number of Council of Europe treaties.

Back to top           Global Coalition against Daesh

Belgium is a member of the Global Coalition against Daesh and is an active member of the coalition’s five working groups. First, the Belgian armed forces participate in military operations. Some of its navy vessels are present near Bahrain along with other European fleets. The Belgian air force has been hitting terrorist targets in Syria and Iraq and military staff and equipment are deployed in Jordan to participate in the coalition airstrikes. Second, Belgium is training Iraqi soldiers. Third, Belgium is engaged in the working groups of ‘Foreign Terrorist Fighters’ and ‘Counter-Finance’, and contributes to the Coalition’s strategic communication. Finally, Belgium participates to the ‘Stabilization’ working group through financial support for humanitarian aid and stabilization in Syria and Iraq.

Furthermore, Belgium has provided humanitarian aid for Syria, Iraq and neighboring countries in an attempt to help them deal with the repercussions of the presence and operations of the so-called IS. In 2015, Belgium’s contribution totaled 50 million euro, funneled into various programs. An additional 75 million euro is engaged for the period 2016/2017. Moreover, Belgium aspires to contribute to the stabilization and reconstruction of areas previously held by the so-called IS and has allotted 2 million euros for the UNDP to serve this end.

Back to top           The UN

International cooperation in the fight against terrorism within the UN framework is of great importance to Belgium. It actively participates in the global counter-terrorism strategy and the implementation of its relevant resolutions. Additionally, it has ratified most UN counter-terrorism conventions. Belgium also supports the projects and activities of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and Terrorism Prevention and the Counter Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council, which seconds the UN member states in their national and regional counter-terrorism policy.

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5.2.4  Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN)

Belgium participates in RAN, an EU Commission initiative that aspires to stop people from getting involved in violent extremism or acts of terrorism. RAN is a network of grassroots practitioners from around Europe who work with people who have been experiencing radicalization or those who are vulnerable to radicalization on a daily basis. Practitioners can share their knowledge and experiences with one another through RAN. They can also peer review each other.

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5.2.5  European Strategic Communications Network (ESCN)

Belgium has been leading an EU-wide project on strategic communication against violent extremism, known as the European Strategic Communications Network (ESCN). Funded by the European Commission, the project was a Belgian initiative that was launched in October 2016 to run over a period of 12 months. The network is composed of EU Member States and aims to share best practices in employment of strategic communications in fighting violent extremism. Moreover, ESCN offers consultancy to Member States to deepen a shared understanding of both the problem and the role of communications in any response.

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5.2.6  Countering Terrorism Financing

Belgium has been involved in fighting terrorism financing at both the local and the international level. For example, Belgium is engaged in the working groups ‘Foreign Terrorist Fighters’ and ‘Counter-Finance,’ which are focused on combating terrorism financing. Moreover, Belgium’s CTIF, which is discussed above, is actively tracking and investigating financial crimes, including financing terrorism.

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5.2.7  Detention

Belgium detains terrorism suspects in accordance to its criminal justice system. Since Belgium adopts a judiciary approach, the overall goal is to bring these suspects to justice and put them in jail if involvement is proved. Belgium consciously avoids detention without trial and unethical interrogation methods. Expectedly, the number of terrorism-related arrests and detentions remarkably increased in the past few years. Terrorism suspects can be held under preventive detention, which is also pre-charge detention. Yet such detention is used under very restrictive conditions.

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6     Conclusion

Recent terrorist attacks in Belgium have confirmed the need for more, and better, internal and external communication and exchange of information between security and intelligence services. Belgium continues to pursue this objective at home and with international, regional and sub-regional partners. Given the absence of border controls in the EU area, it is key for the intelligence services of different states to cooperate and share information and perform necessary controls on Europe’s external borders. Nevertheless, lack of proper coordination and intelligence sharing remain among the main issues facing Belgium in combating terrorism. The multilayered political regime in Belgium resulted in a somewhat fragmented system. Brussels alone has 19 communes or municipalities, and six separate police zones. Moreover, there is no coordination among the different municipal counter-terrorism initiatives within Brussels, or beyond.

Sometimes, the Belgian approach relies heavily on rather long procedures of criminal justice when dealing with terrorism, which may delay a needed swift response. Consequently, some balance needs to be found between sometimes a necessary quick response and legalism.

Belgium’s 30 measures were recently introduced and thus, are difficult to assess. Expectedly, some of these measures are intended to deter participation in terrorism, such as the restrictions imposed on travelling to participate in Jihad. Others are meant to perform risk-management, especially those that address radicalization.

On several occasions, it seems a political decision needs to be made to have more efficient counter-terrorism institutions in Belgium. Many of the police units involved in counter-terrorism suffer from lack of funding while others are understaffed. With the continuing expansion of radicalization and the increasing number of returnees, the system will be exhausted if nothing is done towards this end.

Despite accusations of a fragmented and institutionally flawed approach, Belgium’s experience with counter-terrorism balances domestically tailored tactics with international partnerships and institutional policy frameworks. While this unique setting does not keep the society completely immune against future attacks, it sets a precedent for upholding democratic values and civil liberties.

A unique feature of the Belgian counter-terrorism tactics is their focus on the problem of radicalization in an attempt to address the causes behind terrorism, and not solely its effects. Nevertheless, a lot has to be done. Stakeholders involved in de-radicalization efforts do not have a clear understanding of radicalization and how to identify its indicators. Many recommendations were offered to the Belgian authorities to fill this gap, including offering trainings, the establishment of a federal center for knowledge and advice on issues of radicalization, the development of research and evidence-based preventive projects, etc. Only a small portion of these recommendations were considered by the authorities.

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[1] It is possible that the number of those who are still there has decreased by the time of the writing.

[2] This institution is also known as OCAM in French and it stands for: l’Organe de coordination pour l’analyse de la menace

[3] In French, these services are Centre d’Aide et de Prise en charge de toute personne concernée par les Extrémismes et Radicalismes Violent and le Centre de ressources et d’appui.

[4] The number is: 0800 111 72

[5] Previously searches between 9:00pm and 5:00am were forbidden except for cases of drug-trafficking related offences.