Belgium ‘safer,’ returning fighters a threat: Minister

BRUSSELS: A year after the Brussels bombings, Belgium is more secure but it faces the threat of battle-hardened militant fighters returning home as IS makes its last stand, Interior Minister Jan Jambon said.
“The question is whether IS will order them to fight to the last man or tell them to go home and cause as much damage as possible,” Jambon said in an interview.
“We have not seen any sign of a mass exodus so far but I can assure you that every intelligence service in every country is working on it,” he said.
Jambon said tighter security had made Belgium safer than it was when home-grown suicide bombers killed 32 people at the airport and a metro station on March 22 last year.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said in November that the cell that carried out the Brussels bombings, and was involved in the Paris attacks, had got its orders from high up in the IS command.
The carnage in Brussels and in Paris in November 2015 involved “IS fighters carrying out attacks aimed at causing the most casualties possible,” he said.
However, with European militants finding it harder to get to and from Syria and Iraq, “the IS no longer orders but inspires people to carry out attacks,” Jambon said.
That is the case for attacks perpetrated in the German capital Berlin in December, the French city of Nice in July and the southern Belgian city of Charleroi in August.
A machete-wielding man attacked two policewomen in Charleroi, badly injuring one in the face, before a third officer shot him dead.
“I think we’re in that (new) phase,” said Jambon, a member of the Flemish nationalist N-VA party in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Charles Michel, a French-speaking Wallon.
He said the intelligence services in Belgium and other countries were exchanging information to check for the possible return of militants as IS loses territory to regional forces backed by the US and other powers.
Numbering around 500, Belgium is the European Union’s largest per capita source of so-called foreign militant fighters, but Jambon said none had left the country for the Middle East since January 2016.