Following the massacre that unfolded last Friday in Paris, Belgium has become a focal point for European authorities' anti-terror efforts.
As we detailed in "Meet The 27-Year Old "Mastermind" Behind The Paris Attacks", Abdelhamid Abaaoud began to figure prominently in discussions among Western intelligence officials after two of his operatives were killed in a January raid in Verviers.
Abaaoud was born in Belgium, and partly due to the "fame" he achieved by orchestrating the ISIS operation in Paris, the entire world is now suddenly awake to the role Brussels plays in serving as a kind of terrorist incubator.
Specifically, all eyes are on Molenbeek, a working class, immigrant neighborhood which Foreign Policy notes is separated from the historical district by a "breezy canal" and is but a 20 minute subway "hop" from Brussels' European Quarter.
As The New York Times recounted earlier this week, "the assassination of the Afghan anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, immediately before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001; the train bombings in Madrid in 2004; and the killing of four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in 2014; the foiled shooting on a high-speed train, the anti-terrorist raid in the eastern Belgian town of Verviers, the attack on a Paris kosher supermarket and, finally, the Nov. 13 attacks on the French capital — all had some connection to Molenbeek."
In short, Molenbeek is to European terrorists what Charlestown is to bank robbers, although residents are understandably distressed about that rather unflattering characterization.
In any event, Belgium is now on high alert - literally. As AFP reports, Belgium has raised its terror alert level to the highest level for Brussels on Saturday. An attack, officials say, could be "imminent":
"Following our latest evaluation... the centre has raised its terror alert to level 4, signifying a very serious threat, for the Brussels region," said a statement from OCAM, which comes a week after the Paris attacks left 130 dead.
"The analysis shows a serious and imminent threat requiring specific security measures as well as detailed recommendations to the population," OCAM, which is part of the Belgian Interior Ministry, said in the statement.
Here's the whole statement (Google translated):
Following a new assessment of the OCAM performed this Friday, 20/11 at night, the terror alert level rose to a level 4, very serious, for the Brussels Region. Level 3 continue to apply to the rest of the country.
The analysis shows indeed a serious and imminent threat that requires taking specific security measures as well as specific recommendations for the population.
Advice to the population:
Avoid places with high concentrations of people in the Brussels region (concerts, major events, train stations and airports, public transport, places of high commercial concentration).
Facilitate follow the safety controls
Do not post rumors: follow the official information from the authorities and police services
In order to enable judicial inquiries to track their progress, no further details will be given. A communication from the Government will follow tomorrow morning.
Yes, "no further details will be given." Until a raid turns up a couple of Syrian passports that is.