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Centraal Station, Brussels after foiled attack; Bart De Wever; Tom Van Grieken
Antwerp

Pressure from Flemish anti-immigrationists increase in Antwerp

The city of Antwerp is monitoring a total of 557 people in their fight against radicalisation and terror, the mayor Bart De Wever from the New Flemish Alliance party told the audience during an interview on Van Gils & Gasten, a Flemish TV talkshow.

Published: June 25, 2017, 10:00 am

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    “Four years ago when everyone was still laughing at Salafism, we had already started to follow up and prevent youngsters who were vulnerable to radicalisation. If prevention does not succeed, there is a follow-up by the police. And if that does not work, then we will send them to court,” said mayor De Wever.

    He also put real figures on the table. “We have 189 people who are really dangerous, including 67 people currently in conflict in Syria. Another 16 people returned, 20 wanted to leave but we could stop them. Then we have another sixty people linked to terror. Finally, we also have a large group of 350 people in a Salafist environment. In total, a group of 557 people are actively monitored by us.”

    But according to De Wever there is no reason for panic in Antwerp. “We are monitoring these matters well. But of course, I can not prevent anyone from Molenbeek or Marseille from attacking.”

    The notorious Molenbeek is the home municipality of the person killed while allegedly attempting to detonate a nail bomb in Brussels at the Centraal Station this week. In Marseille, France, two people were arrested in April while planning an imminent attack, French authorities said.

    Antwerp is Belgium’s second-largest city, where about one person in 1000 has been flagged as a potential terrorist threat. Not all of the listed threats of are currently residing in Antwerp.

    De Wever, a “moderate” liberal, is in a tight spot as support for the real anti-immigration Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang has surged.

    The party’s number of likes on Facebook jumped by more than three thousand percent in one week last year in the aftermath of the atrocities in the Belgian capital, according to data published by Facebook.

    Such a massive surge in popularity is particularly significant in a country with only 11 million habitants.

    “Europe is becoming like Iraq’, says Vlaams Belang president Tom van Grieken. In an interview with Flemish Sunday newspaper, De Zondag last week he said the imposed isolation of his party and supporters would not last. In Belgium it is known as the cordon sanitaire around his party.

    Vlaams Belang would stop the influx of Muslim migrants, as well as the return of radicals who leave for Syria, and take a harder approach to extremists already listed as potential trouble. Van Grieken has also said Belgium’s “Law-Lejeune”, which allows the early release of inmates for good behaviour, should be dissolved immediately. He said European were to afraid to assert themselves. “We should first of all clarify what our way of life is,” he added.

    Acquired freedoms such as the right to privacy might have to be temporary, Van Grieken noted. “When a bombing took place five years ago in Iraq, life just went on. I’m afraid Europe is moving in that direction. In Paris an Algerian student attacked a policeman with a hammer. That was a small point in the news. Europe is becoming Iraq. I will never accept that. Otherwise, the terrorists will win.”

    De Standaard reported today that even the Federal Public Prosecutor, Frédéric Van Leeuw, is also arguing that visiting jihadist websites should be made a criminal offence.

    Leeuw stressed that, “Belgium forbids visiting sites circulating child abuse images.” He wondered whether the state should go further and include jihadist sites disseminating violent images as illegal too.

    Stores that sell products which can be used in the making of explosives called the federal police thirty times last year, reported Het Laatste Nieuws and De Morgen on Friday.

    Since July 2016, hardware stores and pharmacists have to inform the police in case of a suspicious transaction. “It has happened thirty times. Every communication can play a crucial role in detecting a terrorist plot”, said Interior Minister Jan Jambon.

    Meanwhile the family of Oussama Zariouh, the alleged suicide bomber shot at Centraal Station in the capital, deny that he was intending to carry out a terror attack.

    On Tuesday, Zariouh tried to blow up a suitcase in Brussels Central station, before being shot dead by the military. His father and sister, who live in Nador in Morocco, gave an interview to VRT on Thursday.

    His father said that Oussama was not radicalised. He was clear, “He had no sympathies with Islamic State. Moreover, he was certainly not a member of a terrorist group. I would describe him as a moderate Muslim. He was a normal boy who listened to music. He sometimes prayed, although not very often. He was far from being an extremist.”

    His family had not noticed any significant change in his behaviour recently. His loved ones had heard him talking on the telephone this month. His sister explained, “He spoke normally, as he had always done.” His father explained, “He was planning to come to Morocco this summer to get married. He wanted to change jobs and become a taxi driver.”

    The family is demanding evidence that shows that Zariouh wished to commit an attack. They intend to retain a “human rights” lawyer in Belgium to take on the case.

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