- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

BRUSSELS (AP) - The Belgian government on Friday approved a sweeping plan to combat Islamic radicalism and the threat of extremist violence by hiring 1,000 new police officers over the next four years.

The plan, presented by Interior Minister Jan Jambon, calls for adding 300 officers this year, and more than 500 by 2017.

“The impact that we are looking for is to maximize security in this country and in Brussels and in all of the other cities of the country,” Jambon told The Associated Press. The government’s decision, he said, will mean “a lot more police officers in the battle against terrorism.”

The November attacks that killed 130 people in Paris were staged from Belgium, and subsequent official investigations have revealed how ineffective the surveillance of suspected radicals in the country has often been.

Belgium has also been one of the prime European recruiting grounds for foreign fighters enlisted by the Islamic State extremist group.

Jambon said 300 new officers will be added in Molenbeek and other neighborhoods of greater Brussels with a history of radical Islamist activity. Ninety-six police investigators will be hired, and 260 TV cameras positioned to monitor movements on the highways.

The plan also includes funds for more judges, police snipers, computer equipment, DNA scanners, prison guards and training of Muslim religious leaders.

Law enforcement personnel will also be reinforced at Belgian airports and on the country’s North Sea coast. Prime Minister Charles Michel told a joint news conference with Jambon and other members of the federal government that 103 new hires will be made in the Belgian state security services.

In a tweet, the prime minister put the overall price tag of Belgium’s security upgrade at 300 million euros ($334 million).

Molenbeek, the gritty industrial district in western Brussels that was home to suspected Paris attack ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and three other attackers, became the symbol of the presence of Muslim radicalism in Belgium and the inability of authorities to stamp it out. Jambon said 50 of the new police hires will quickly be deployed there.

Francoise Schepmans, Molenbeek’s mayor, expressed satisfaction at the decision. The new arrivals, she told AP, “are going to assist the local officers, the police who collect information on the ground and investigate who lives where.”

Molenbeek’s mayor said the Belgian federal government will also be supporting the local force’s administrative cell in “deciphering the activities of individuals and places connected to radicalism.”

On Monday, the prime ministers of Belgium and France and their top justice, police and intelligence officials held an extraordinary meeting in Brussels, and agreed to step up cooperation in the counterterrorism field.

According to Jambon, the priorities in Belgium’s ramped up effort will be combatting the foreign fighter phenomenon; shutting down illegal commerce in firearms, drugs and forged documents that is often linked to the extremists; drying up their other sources of revenue; and fighting attempts to radicalize Belgians, including through mosques or prayer rooms.


Associated Press writer Mark Carlson contributed.

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