The Belgian Radicals’ Den

Politico.eu reports on the run-down Brussels neighbourhood where jihadis regularly recruit:

“We don’t have a grip on the situation in Molenbeek.”

A confession — a mea culpa almost — summed up the Belgian government’s reaction to the links discovered between the terrorist strikes in Paris and this working class, immigrant neighborhood of Brussels.

Speaking to public broadcaster VRT Sunday, Interior Minister Jan Jambon said that the authorities had lost control over this area of the EU capital, which culprits in several recent terrorist attacks in Europe, including Friday’s carnage in Paris, have called home.

As the people of Paris united in grief and anxiety, the focus of the investigation into the coordinated shootouts and bombings at several locations in the French capital shifted northward over the weekend to Brussels.

Officials said the Paris plot increasingly looked like it was hatched in the Belgian capital. “It’s likely we’re dealing with a network,” said Françoise Schepmans, the mayor of the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean commune, or district.

The possible presence of a terrorist den, barely a couple kilometers from the city’s European quarter, has added sharp urgency to oft-voiced concerns about radicalization within Belgium’s Muslim community and the government’s track record on counterterrorism.

The Belgian federal prosecutor said two of the men behind Friday’s attack lived in Brussels. On Saturday afternoon, acting on evidence gathered at the scene in Paris, Belgian police raided two houses in Molenbeek and took seven people into custody.

For Molenbeek, the notoriety is nothing new. Ayoub El Khazzani, a young Moroccan who spent time in Syria and whose August attempt to attack passengers on a high-speed train from Brussels to Paris was thwarted by other passengers, stayed with his sister in Molenbeek. The neighborhood was linked to a terrorist cell broken up in January in Verviers, a depressed city in southern Belgium, as well as the radical network called Sharia4Belgium.

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