Terrorist bombings at a subway station in Maalbeek and at Zaventem Airport have killed at least 34 people and injured another 170. Two bombs, at least one of which is believed to have been a suicide bombing, struck the airport early this morning, and an hour later another bomb hit the subway station. There are reports of suspicious packages being found all over the city, but in the immediate aftermath of something like this pretty much any package can look suspicious, so it’s best to reserve judgment on reports like that until they’ve been investigated. Belgian authorities say they are conducting raids on suspected terrorist targets, and the city of Brussels is on highest alert. I’m now seeing a breaking report that a nuclear plant in Belgium has been evacuated, but I’m not sure whether that’s in response to a specific threat or just part of the government’s terrorism response plan.
No formal claim of responsibility has come out yet, but it’s highly likely that this was the work of an ISIS cell–specifically, the cell that formerly included Salah Abdeslam, the suspect in November’s attack in Paris who was arrested last Friday after a police raid and gun battle. Abdeslam, who was planning to blow himself up as part of the Paris attack but decided to cut and run instead, reportedly told Belgian police that he was planning more attacks when they finally tracked him down, and today’s bombings would suggest that he was telling the truth. The timing of this attack, so soon after Abdeslam’s capture (along with four other alleged cell members), lends itself to a “revenge” scenario, but I would argue that the more likely explanation is that the cell members decided to push forward any plans they were considering, before Abdeslam and/or any of the other four suspects could be interrogated.
Belgium is, to put it mildly, over its head in terms of dealing with its own homegrown terrorist problem. On a per capita basis, Belgium has sent more foreign fighters to the Iraq-Syria conflict zone than any other European country, and while some of those are presumably fighting with other groups, it’s safe to say that the majority have gone there to fight for ISIS. The presence of intricate terror networks in Brussels was illustrated in the relative ease with which Abdeslam was able to evade capture in the months after Paris, and the level of violence it took police to finally bring him in. The existence of a relatively large, economically and politically disconnected immigrant community is part of the picture, and it doesn’t help that the Saudi-financed Great Mosque of Belgium preaches a form of Salafi (and occasionally Takfiri) Islam that can help radicalize potential terrorists. The upshot is that Belgium, a small country with limited resources, just can’t keep up with the number of potential threats.