The bombings in Brussels point to a broad and sophisticated terrorist network in Belgium, extending beyond the individuals involved in the attack in Paris in November 2015.
Compared to other Western countries, Belgium is particularly vulnerable to jihadist terrorism for the following reasons: First, the country has an especially longstanding and well-organized network of radical Islamist recruiters. Second, its police and intelligence agencies lack the resources to counter the surge in jihadist recruiting over the last five years.
Counter-terrorism officers in Belgium will readily admit that they are overwhelmed by the numbers of suspected jihadists in the country. The gap between the size of the terrorist threat and the capabilities of Belgium’s security apparatus is perhaps the largest in Europe.
Like many European cities, Brussels has neighbourhoods that have become migrant ghettos after decades of neglect by the state and society. There are clear signs of social and economic deprivation in these areas, fostering alienation and marginalization. Extremists have been able to exploit this vacuum, particularly in Brussels, which has entrenched jihadist recruitment structures.
An estimated 500 Belgian nationals have travelled to Syria or Iraq with the intention of joining militant groups. ICSR research indicates it is the highest number per capita in Europe.