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Belgium and counterterrorism policy in the Jihadi Era (1986-2007)

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Belgium is not a significant safe haven for terrorist groups, according to the 2006 edition of the Country Reports on Terrorism, released by the U.S. State Department in April 2007. Belgium is only a piece in a global puzzle of terrorism, including its jihadi variant that gained worldwide prominence with the 9/11 attacks. In the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, Belgium bore its share of the burden of terrorism, as did some of its neighbours. The Cellules Communistes Combattantes were the Belgian branch of a Europe-wide movement of anticapitalist terrorism that caused widespread anxiety in public opinion. In the mid-1980s, much earlier than most of its neighbours (with the exception of France) Belgium then encountered a new variety of terrorists, religiously inspired groups, linked with the Shia regime in Teheran. Subsequently in the mid-1990s Belgian authorities discovered support cells of the Algerian radical Islamist movement GIA on its soil. These were the beginnings of Belgium’s encounter with jihadi terrorism. Jihadi terrorism went through different mutations. It started as an ‘Islamonationalist’ movement in the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. It then acquired a global character, with al-Qaeda as the vanguard organisation of international jihadi terrorism. As a result of international and national efforts the organisation started to atomize and gave way to a decentralized, largely home-grown patchwork of jihadi groups, linked by ideology and opportunistic links. This Egmont Paper1 explores how Belgium reacted to the growth of this new form of terrorism from its early signs in the 1980s until today. Next, it analyses the measures taken by the Belgian law enforcement apparatus since 9/11. Finally, it assesses Belgian specificities in combating jihadi terrorism.
Rik Coolsaet & Tanguy Struye de Swielande. This Egmont Paper is simultaneously published in: Fernando Reinares, ¿Estamos más Seguros? Democracias Occidentales y Terrorismo Global (Are we Safer? Western Democracies and Global Terrorism). Madrid, RIE/Ariel, 2007. Rik Coolsaet is Chair of the Department of Political Science at Ghent University (Belgium) and Director of the Security & Global Governance Programme at Egmont-Royal Institute for International Relations (Brussels). Tanguy Struye de Swielande has been a research fellow at the Egmont institute.
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