An Italian expert on terrorism speaks from Brussels

by Giuseppe Terranova - 2016.03.24
An Italian expert on terrorism speaks from Brussels
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“Compared to the attacks in Paris, this time is more difficult.” Those were the first thoughts of Marco Martiniello, professor of sociology and immigration at the University of Liege, when I phoned him in the hours following the suicide bombings in the airport and metro station in the Belgian capital, which killed 32 people and wounded 270. One senses immediately that this is the man speaking rather than the scholar.

More difficult in what way? Do you think there are differences between the massacre in Paris and the one in Brussels?

No, no. Absolutely not. It's evident that the pattern and the dynamic is the same. What we said about 13 November is also true today. But the truth is that when blood and death come to your doorstep, scarring the symbolic places of your daily routine, then it's very complicated even just to talk about it.

And yet some international observers and analysts, such as Professor Gilles Kepel, have said this massacre in the heart of Europe is an act of weakness by Isis. Weakened militarily by the recent victories of the western Allies in Syria, and with difficulty in finding new recruits, it needed to relaunch its image with an extreme gesture. Do you agree with this?

Absolutely not. I'll stick to the facts. Sowing fear and terror in locations that are symbolic for Belgium and the European Union, killing 32 people, injuring 270 (with many maimed for life) is no trivial matter. We must not get used to killings like this. In the cradle of civilisation, even one death should shock us.

Indeed. In Paris, however, there were more bombers, they were better organised, had greater firepower and killed 130 people. Would you say that there seems to have been a step down in the ability to plan the attack, this time?

That remains to be seen and it's still too early to say. On the other hand, the terrorists may have feared that their possible accomplice Salah Abdeslam would confess in jail, so they were forced to quickly carry out their plan, which may have been on a bigger scale and could have caused many more casualties.

What now? How can a lawful country react and prevent the actions of people who kill themselves in order to kill?

It seems banal, but the first thing is we have to stay calm, united and make precise distinctions. Our enemy is not Islam, but terrorism. Because, as we have said, we're dealing with a segment of the second generation (or converted Muslims) who are gripped by absolute nihilism and now hate not just the Western infidels, but also their parents who sweated blood to give them a good future. We're talking about failed young men, often with criminal records, who are fragile and without values. They have little understanding of the Koran but they have tried, unsuccessfully, to join the army. Right up until their 'conversion', they smoked, drank and went dancing dressed like their peers, who they now kill. Then, attracted by the lure of the Islamist movement of the day, they decide to marry the cause of the Caliph of the moment. Yesterday it was Bin Laden, today it's Al-Baghdadi.

So what is the solution?

It's what we say every time we finish counting and mourning the dead. We need more Europe, more intelligence, a European FBI and controls on external border, not on national ones.

Can Turkey help us speak to the Islamic world?

It's unreliable. And in the Arab world, it's seen, because of its secularism, as more of an exception. It is essential to develop relationships, as Belgium is already doing, with countries such as Morocco, where the parents of the second generation now living in Europe were born.

Has the absence of the US been felt on this issue?

I would say so. I can't remember a time when, in the aftermath of an attack in Europe, the US State Department publicly told its citizens not to go to the Old Continent.

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