- - Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Radical Islam recently reared its ugly head once again in an urban attack on civilians in Brussels. Although Western leaders immediately condemned the attack, their words alone will not defeat this enemy, which places little value on human life, or the civilized world’s laws and customs of war. The West desperately needs new strategic thinking to effectively combat this evil.

Why did jihadists strike Brussels? The short answer is likely because the city serves as the capital of Belgium and the European Union (EU) as well as headquarters for NATO.

The March 22 jihadi attack on unsuspecting civilians at a Brussels airport and subway left 35 people dead (including four Americans), and about 300 others wounded. It replicated in some respects recent jihadi attacks on civilians in Paris, San Bernardino and elsewhere.

The Islamic State claims this and other attacks on Western civilian targets (in clear contravention of the Geneva Conventions and protocols), are in reprisal for Western-led airstrikes (warplanes and drones) on areas it controls in places like Iraq, Syria and Libya.

In the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel called the Brussels jihadi attack “blind, violent and cowardly.” French President Francois Hollande called “Islamist terrorism” a root cause of terrorism. U.S. President Obama condemned the attack as terrorism but steadfastly refused to identify “radical Islam” as its cause, perhaps fearful of offending the entire global Muslim community — with his administration going so far as to delete Mr. Hollande’s “Islamic terrorism” reference from the White House website.

Many Belgians and others considered Brussels‘ Molenbeek municipality as the “jihadi capital of Europe” well before this attack, principally because of the known jihadists in its 40,000 Muslim population, and its Pan-European reach. However, it’s important to note that no one knows for sure how many Muslims have been radicalized or are sympathetic to jihad in Molenbeek, Greater Brussels or districts and cities in the 27 other EU countries.

What is known is that Muslims comprise 20.7 million of EU’s 514 million total population (4 percent) and that the greatest Muslim populations are in France, Germany and the United Kingdom, and that radicalized Muslims (e.g., jihadists) have accounted for 11 of 13 of the deadliest terror attacks on European civilian targets and interests, according to Pew Research, CIA World Factbook and USA Today reports.

It is also known that about 6,600 jihadists from EU countries are estimated to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight with the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other terror groups (74 percent of them from France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium), and some 1,980 (30 percent) have returned to Europe, according to U.S. Intelligence Community Worldwide Threat Assessment, the Soufan Group, and The Hague’s International Centre for Counter-Terrorism reports.

In addition, it is believed more than 1 million Muslim migrants and refugees entered Europe legally and illegally by land and sea in 2015. The vast majority of them are from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, with most arriving in Germany, Hungary and Sweden, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Eurostat and International Organization for Migration reports. Germany’s domestic intelligence chief, Hans-Georg Maassen, warned that authorities have “seen repeatedly that terrorists are being slipped in, disguised as refugees.”

What should the EU and U.S. leaders do in response to continuing jihadi attacks on innocent civilians in urban hubs? Some suggestions:

• Investigate the extent the civilized world’s laws and customs of war should apply to jihadists who purposely target innocent civilians for slaughter to achieve military and political advantage. These laws are designed, in part, to protect innocent civilians from warring parties — not those who plot and hide among civilians to carry out jihad.

• Determine the extent intelligence-gathering capabilities can be enhanced and promptly acted on. Politically correct rules, such as not allowing Brussels police to raid terror suspect homes between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., embolden rather than pacify jihadists.

• Reexamine the merits of the Schengen Agreement, which allows for passport-free travel throughout most of the European Union, allowing EU jihadists to more easily travel to, and return from, warzones like Iraq and Syria.

• Re-evaluate the merits of the revised U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows visa-free travel to the United States for residents of 23 EU countries, to ensure the program doesn’t allow jihadists a pathway into the United States.

• Thoroughly vet, through extensive interviews and research, all incoming migrants and refugees entering the EU and the United States from dangerous countries before admittance.

President Obama’s approach to fighting terrorism, along with those of European leaders, hasn’t succeeded in harnessing an enemy, which is now successfully employing urban jihadi warfare in European, American and other cities throughout the world. Preventing more jihadi attacks like Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino will require leadership that recognizes there is a rising threat from radical Islam and which will necessitate changes in current laws, programs and policies to effectively combat and mitigate this threat, otherwise many more innocent lives may be lost.

• Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst who served in the U.S. departments of State and Defense.

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