The world is shocked by the tragedy that occurred in the Belgian capital. The events prompted the feelings of grief and indignation among millions of people around the globe. It challenges the bedrock principles worked out over the human history. This terrorist evil is becoming the plague of the 21st century.
On 22 March 2016, three explosions occurred in Brussels: two at Brussels airport and one at Maalbeek metro station. At least 34 people are reported to have been killed, with dozens injured.
Shots were fired and shouts in Arabic were heard before the blasts. Some reports say it was a suicide attack. According to Belgian media, the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group has claimed responsibility.
The attacks came four days after Salah Abdeslam, the main fugitive in the Paris attacks, was seized in Brussels. Belgium's Interior Minister Jan Jambon warned on March 21 that the country was on the highest level of alert for possible revenge attacks after the capture of the suspect.
Prime Minister Charles Michel called the latest attacks «blind, violent and cowardly», adding: «This is a day of tragedy, a black day… I would like to call on everyone to show calmness and solidarity».
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, told employees to stay indoors or at home. All meetings at EU institutions located in Brussels were cancelled.
The US European Command and NATO went on higher alert. At NATO headquarters in Mons, a Brussels suburb, Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of the alliance, said, «We have decided to increase the alert state at NATO Headquarters. We remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation very closely».
The ramifications were immediately felt outside Belgium as well.
In the US the Washington's Metro police announced that it would be increasing K9 sweeps and police patrols as a precaution.
European capitals also went on higher security alerts, fearing copycat attacks. Eurostar, a high-speed railway that goes to England and France, noted a number of schedule and other changes, including canceling service between London and Brussels. The police in the UK have increased their presence at certain locations, including transport hubs like London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports. France deployed 1,600 more police around the country.
It was expected. As far back as January this year, Europol director Rob Wainwright told the media that the Islamic State (IS) group is expanding its activities to a global level, with a focus on the European Union, which should prepare for more frequent acts of terror similar to the recent Paris attacks.
According to him, «The so-called Islamic State has developed a new combat-style capability to carry out a campaign of large-scale terrorist attacks on a global stage – with a particular focus in Europe».
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he wanted to be honest with the public and tell them to expect more attacks like the ones carried out by the Islamic State in France in November 2015. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany held this February, he said: «We are at war with terrorism; we need to be sincere with our people and we need to tell them there will be other attacks, major attacks – this is something we know for sure».
In propaganda videos published over the past few weeks, IS fighters warned of imminent, major attacks against France, Britain, Italy and Spain – the last one as punishment for having expelled Muslim rulers from Andalusia 500 years ago.
The IS still relies on propaganda to maintain its dominance in the ranks of global jihad and draw new recruits to expand the “caliphate”, which remains its ultimate goal. In the absence of battlefield successes in Syria, Iraq, or elsewhere, the group can fill a void by staging further, spectacular attacks in the West that garner global coverage.
This is not the first time Europe is confronted by terrorism. However, what happened in Brussels exceeds the scale of an ordinary terrorist attack. The coordinated actions of those who perpetrated this heinous crime attest that they have a well-organized and structured force behind them. This is a well-planned Europe-wide operation with clear goals set.
The Western support for the “Arab Spring” has backlashed with refugee flows flooding Europe and terrorist attacks becoming routine. The flawed Middle East policy resulted in the spread of terrorist activities and the emergence of the Islamic State. For instance, the Iraq War created a large number of Sunni armed groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq. The latter joined other Sunni insurgency groups in 2006 to form the Islamic State. The recruitment ground for these groups consisted of Sunnis who lost jobs and livelihoods as a result of Western military intervention in Iraq.
It’s enough to remember the fact that the Islamic State top brass is nobody else, but former Iraqi Army's elite.
The link between Western interventions and the strengthening of terrorist groups was also evident after the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya. Under the nose of Western surveillance, Libyan arms depots were looted and weapons sent to Syria through a NATO ally – Turkey.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh wrote an article in April 2014, in which he exposed a classified agreement between the CIA, Turkey and the Syrian rebels to create the “rat line” – the covert network used to channel weapons and ammunition from Libya to Syria through Turkey.
The funding was provided by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with full knowledge of the US authorities.
Now the terrorist attacks make the West belatedly realize that its own policy in the Middle East and complacency towards extremism have allowed the pernicious Islamic influences to spread around.
The wave of terrorist attacks throughout the whole world and, in particular, in Europe, makes Russia and the West natural allies in the fight against a common threat. One of the goals pursued by the Russian military operation in Syria was to prevent Russian citizens, who had joined the Islamic State (IS), from coming home. The Islamic State threatened to come to Russia to “free Chechnya and the entire Caucasus” as well as to destabilize the country.
From Russia’s perspective, the picture is more than alarming.
Russia and the US-led coalition could agree to coordinate their activities in Syria and launch a negotiation process under the UN auspices; they could also come to an agreement on other issues, including fighting the Islamic State in the Middle East and Europe.
Fighting terrorism is an issue on the agenda during US State Secretary John Kerry’s visit to Moscow on March 23-24.
On March 22, President Putin discussed the tragic events with Finish President Sauli Niinistö on a visit to Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to King Philippe of Belgium over the death of civilians as a result of the terrorist attacks. «The head of the Russian state condemned this barbaric crime, which has no justification and which confirms once again that terrorism knows no borders and threatens the peoples all over the world», the Russian presidential press service reported.
«The fight against this evil requires the most active international interaction», Putin noted. The Russian President said he is convinced that the murderers and their accomplices will face their due punishment, and offered his words of sympathy to the families and friends of those killed and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.
Russia and the West teaming up on jihadists is the worst nightmare the Islamic State militants could imagine.
This is the time to set aside the differences and join together in an effort to counter the burgeoning common threat.