Wednesday , March 22 2023

Brussels bombs an ‘attack on our freedom’ says Dutch prime minister Rutte (updated)

The Brussels bombings, which have left at least 26 people dead, are once again ‘a direct attack on our freedom, our security and our way of life’, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday. ‘Brussels, Belgium and Europe have been hit in the heart,’ he said. Giving way to such violence is not an option and our open and democratic society will not be ruled by fear, the prime minister said after a meeting with security officials. ‘I have said it before, and I will say it again today. There are more of us.’ While there is no concrete evidence that the Netherlands has been singled out for a terrorist attack, a range of precautions are being taken, Rutte said.

Mark Rutte makes a statement after meeting ministers to discuss the Brussels bombs. Photo: Phil Nijhuis / HH Read more at Brussels bombs an ‘attack on our freedom’ says Dutch prime minister. Photo: Phil Nijhuis / HH
Mark Rutte makes a statement after meeting ministers to discuss the Brussels bombs. (Photo: Phil Nijhuis / HH)

Patrols have been stepped up at airports and major railway stations, there will be extensive surveillance along the border with Belgium and there will be extra checks on international trains, Rutte said. Security will also be beefed up at Arnhem, Breda and Roosendaal stations because of their proximity to the border. Alert The threat level in the Netherlands remains ‘substantial’, which is one level below the maximum.

The cabinet remains alert and will introduce new measures if necessary, the prime minister said. The blasts at Brussels’ Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station killed at least 26 people and injured many more. The city is on a virtual lock-down and there has been widespread disruption to transport services in Belgium and the Netherlands. All trains to Brussels airport have been stopped and all flights cancelled following the explosions. Air traffic which was en route for Brussels is being rerouted via Schiphol. Thalys high-speed services to Brussels have also been cancelled and the number of trains to and from Schiphol has been reduced.

Hoofddorp’s railway station was closed for a time on Tuesday when an international train was halted because of a ‘suspicious situation’. According to one report, the police were alerted after a passenger showed ‘suspect behaviour’ in a train heading for Amsterdam. The sealed-off area around the station was expanded around 1pm after the discovery of a suspect package in a van. Two delivery staff were arrested for failing to follow police instructions but were later released, news agency ANP says.

Later in the afternoon, a building in Hoofddorp used by publishing group Sanoma was evacuated after a suspect package was found in a car with open doors. That too was a false alarm.

A man was also arrested at Amsterdam’s main railway station on Tuesday morning and led away by police wearing a blindfold. He was ‘not found to be carrying a weapon’ and was later released with ‘apologies’, local broadcaster AT5 said.

In Zwolle, a train was brought to a halt following reports that a passenger was displaying suspect behaviour. He was eventually removed from the train which was allowed to continue its journey after a 30-minute delay.

King Dutch king Willem-Alexander issued a statement saying that he had been in touch with Belgium’s king Philippe. ‘Europe is being tested heavily again,’ he said. ‘What we need to do now is show our collective strength and hold high our values of solidarity and freedom.’ More on the Brussels bombs

What are the chances of a terrorist attack in the Netherlands?

This is what the papers say:

In its editorial the NRC writes that ‘those who warned that new bomb attacks in Europe weren’t a question of “if” but of “when” were proved right’. The place was significant too, the paper writes: ‘The terrorists wanted to hit at the heart of Europe, and at the European way of life.’ It is significant that the Belgian authorities, after months of searching, failed to come up with any clues, but these terrorists are not operating in a void, ‘a crucial factor’, the NRC writes. ‘It provides opportunities for security services, for instance, via tips from people who don’t condone the attacks. But if the environment of (potential) terrorists is sympathetic to the actions, it becomes a major hurdle. This is what seems to be the case in Molenbeek where the Paris suspects were able to hide and even move about freely,’ the paper writes. The fragmented nature of the Belgian administration which leads to information not being shared is also to blame, and this should be remedied as a matter of priority, the paper writes. ‘But whether or not the terrorists are foreigners or home-grown is not important. Radical ideas are part of globalisation. In an open society like ours attacks can happen anywhere, including in this country. The Netherlands must realise that it is as vulnerable as any other country. Dutch cities could have their own Molenbeek,’ the NRC concludes.

The Volkskrant talked to Edwin Bakker, head of the Centre for Terrorism and Counter-terrorism, who says the Netherlands is better prepared for a terrorist attack. Unlike the Belgians, the Dutch authorities and secret services have a better insight into what is happening in cities and neighbourhoods thanks to the so-called ‘chain approach’ which sees neighbourhood policemen, social workers, parents and teachers alert for signs of radicalisation. Returning jihadis are also closely monitored.

According to Clingendael terrorism expert Bibi van Ginkel the fact that the Netherlands hasn’t been attacked yet is a matter of ‘better monitoring, better prevention and luck’. The question of what drives people to become terrorists is not an easy one to answer, Van Ginkel says. ‘The fact is that the process of radicalisation is speeding up. A person can go from completely normal to ready to blow himself up in the space of two months. Interviews with people who came back from Syria show a variety of motivations. It can be to do with the measure of integration, the lack of opportunities for immigrants, influences from their immediate environment – we don’t really know.’

In Trouw, philosopher Rico Sneller proposed a Freudian explanation for the urge to commit suicide for a cause: ‘People have both the urge to live and the urge to die. In normal life both urges are repressed; extremes are avoided. (..) If you want to destroy yourself with drink or drugs, help is available until the urge to self-destruct diminishes. For a suicide terrorist destruction is the main aim and IS delivers the context which unleashes that urge: fighters are so brainwashed they no longer have any inhibitions.’

In Elsevier, commentator Afshin Ellian says: ‘Candles, flowers and teddy bears are not the answer to Muslim terrorism. Western democracies need to answer an urgent political question: what is the place of political Islam in Europe?’ The answer is a decision about war and peace, freedom and security, freedom of religion and religious mania and Them and Us, according to Ellian. ‘But Western politicians have put off a definitive answer for the last decade hoping it would go away. However, enemies don’t simply disappear and the politics of postponement has yielded a poisonous result: the growth and modification of a fifth column in our cities. Jihadis are not touched by the sorrow of the West. We can’t call them to account but we can call our politicians to account for being negligent,’ Ellian writes.

Reported by Dutch News

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