Analysis

Brussels Is Bleeding and Europe Is Under Siege

Tuesday morning's attacks will call into question the open borders policy, which had been, until recently, the European Union's great pride.

Rescue teams evacuate wounded people outside the Maalbeek metro station in Brussels on March 22, 2016 after a blast at this station located near the EU institutions.
AFP

The two attacks in Brussels on Tuesday, at the airport and subway station, cost 34 people their lives, as of the early afternoon, and effectively placed the whole continent under siege. Even though no terror organization has taken credit yet, it is very difficult not to associate the blasts with the Friday arrest in Brussels of the Islamic State activist Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in planning the series of attacks in Paris four months ago, which killed 130.

Until his arrest, Abdeslam had been the most wanted man in Europe. Yet despite the enormous resources that went into tracking him down, for quite some time, he managed to stay two steps ahead of Belgium's security system. That feat indicates that despite dozens of police raids and numerous arrests, the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, has a substantial network in place whose members are not known to the security forces. We can assume quite safely that this network lies behind Tuesday morning's terror attacks.

Investigation of the attacks in Paris found that at all three locations, the ISIS people used explosive belts – all assembled the same way, by experts in ordnance. The dimensions of destruction on Tuesday morning in Brussels also indicate an experienced hand and regular supply of explosive materials.

The implications of the Belgian attacks go far beyond the ability of some single ISIS terror network. The movement of explosives and armaments into European Union territory, and between the member nations, was not blocked. On top of the damage to the European transport system, which already shut down a major aviation hub, train service around Brussels and temporarily, the borders with the Netherlands and France – a question is begged about the open borders policy (the Schengen agreement), which had been, until recently, the European Union's great pride.

Also, the identity of the attackers, once it is known, could well ramp up the already vituperative public criticism against the ingress of Syrian refugees into Europe, which despite the agreement the European Union signed with Turkey last week, is far from ending.

Terror attacks in the heart of Europe, not far from the EU offices and the NATO alliance headquarters, will also amplify the euroskeptic voices demanding a return to the old Europe, where every country looked after its own safety and borders.

Yet it is at this very time that greater cooperation is needed, between intelligence and security services, to fight the terrorism, which naturally just whips up the xenophobes who see millions of Muslim citizens as a threat.

These ill winds have already done damage to the German ruling party run by Angela Merkel, in regional elections. The hard right won rare achievements. Now a referendum due to be held in Britain in three months, about the kingdom continuing its membership in the European Union, is at risk. Europe is under attack and the shock waves could yet create deep cracks in the union.