The Belgian Defence Minister has confirmed that 60 serving soldiers are being monitored by military intelligence after having exhibited signs of Islamic extremism.
The fact that certain soldiers are being monitored for Islamic extremism was revealed by the Belgian Defence Minister, Steven Vandeput, when responding to a parliamentary question.
Mr. Vandeput confirmed that “around 60 defence members behaving suspiciously” — 55 soldiers and 5 non-commissioned officers — are being monitored by Belgium’s General Intelligence and Security Service (GISS), reports La Libre Belgique. The minister added that all “have been identified as radicalised Muslims.”
Although accepting that “freedom of religion is a fundamental right”, Mr. Vandeput said that the GISS “verifies whether the ideas and behaviour of a Defence personnel member infringe the army’s values/and or missions.”
Those soldiers under surveillance for Islamic extremism are not permitted to serve in armed missions, but will be not be automatically dismissed, reports Flanders News. Mr. Vandeput explained:
“The army is a reflection of society. One aspect of our western society is freedom of opinion. We can never dismiss anyone just on the basis of his or her ideas.”
The identification of the 60 serving soldiers came about after Belgian army commanders attended a training course last year at which they learned about the characteristics or signals which may betray the adoption of extremist ideas.
They were taught that past experience shows the radicalisation process can be rapid, which is why the army sought to be proactive. Those trained commanders then submitted the names of potentially dangerous personnel from their own units.
The Minister confirmed that “no soldier, up to now, has been removed because of Islamic extremism,” adding that all those soldiers who were eventually subject to military discipline “left the army on their own or were dismissed for other reasons.”
Nevertheless Mr. Vandeput was keen to stress: “It goes without saying that any indication of imminent departure to Syria will lead to immediate action.”
That comment was made in the light of the fact that several years ago four former Belgian soldiers who had been radicalised were spotted in Syria, including one reservist killed in 2012.
The Minister confirmed that since 2013 all new candidates are “subject to a security check by the GISS restricting the recruitment of extremists from all sides.”
However, the 60 soldiers under surveillance are serving soldiers who may have been radicalised since joining the army, having crossed what Mr. Vandeput referred to as “the fine line” which separates “on the one hand, a strict interpretation of Islam and, on the other, radicalism or extremism.”