Islamic State operatives are exploiting raised tensions in Brussels by sending text messages to young Muslims living in the jihadi hotspot of Molenbeek, urging them to rise up against Westerners. Community activists have reacted with despair, likening the strategy to drug dealers outside school gates.
The text was sent on Sunday night from a prepaid account which could not be traced or replied to. It read, in French, “My brother, why not fight the Westerners? Make the right choice in your life,” The Guardian has reported.
It is not clear how Islamic State gained access to the phone numbers to which the text was sent, but it is thought that they may have downloaded the phone books of new recruits and picked out Islamic sounding names as targets.
Other reports have also emerged of recruitment messages being sent via social media accounts, and even by email.
The strategy is designed to exploit heightened tensions in the city following suicide attacks carried out in the metro system and at Zaventem airport last Tuesday, which claimed 35 lives and injured hundreds of others.
Following the attacks, footage circulated on Facebook apparently showing youths from the Molenbeek district of Brussels celebrating the news, while days later nationalists took to the city’s streets to demand the deportation of Islamists.
Jamal Ikazban, the Socialist party MP for Molenbeek told The Guardian that the strategy of targeting locals was “cheeky,” and accused the jihadists of stoking up racial tensions in the city.
“These people are trying to take our youth by storm,” he said.
“It is like having a big-time drug dealer outside the school gates. We feel the same. They have to be taken off the streets. They are predators and our youths are the victims.”
And Jamal Zaria, the imam at Molenbeek’s Arafat mosque, said parents in the area’s Belgo-Moroccan community were growing increasingly concerned about the targeting of their children by Islamist outsiders.
“They are being exposed to something like a cancer at a metastasic stage,” he said. “It is really spreading very quickly. We have to race against time to develop an immune system for the children in our community so that they reject the message of Daesh [Islamic State].”
The Belgian authorities have come in for heavy criticism for their failure to deal with the rise of Islamic terrorism within their cities, including by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has spoken out repeatedly this week over Belgium’s failure to follow up on Turkish warnings that one of the brothers involved in the attack, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, was a “foreign terrorist fighter”.
Ergodan has also accused European leaders of deliberately allowing known terrorists to travel freely across the continent.
Back in Molenbeek, Ikazban has also criticised the authorities’ failure to act, alleging that political leaders and security services have turned a blind eye to his warnings that certain locations were being used by jihadi groups, while simultaneously allowing ghettoes to spring up in impoverished districts such as Molenbeek.
“Joining Daesh is a form of suicide,” Ikazban said. “They understand that there is a despair here which could be used to indoctrinate and recruit these people. I’m very angry that we have not done enough about that.”