Brussels Attacks: Shedding Light on a Small North African Immigrant Community

(c) Alex E. Proimos - Flickr Creative Commons
Photo/Alex E. Proimos – Flickr Creative Commons

The western part of Schaerbeek, Belgium is home to 130,000 people that comprise of a large Turkish immigrant community, it is also home to a large Moroccan population and other immigrant communities such as Spanish, Congolese, and Asian immigrants.

Now Schaerbeek is a city in the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons.

Until the Brussels Attacks, on March 22, 2016, news on Schaerbeek had less to do with terrorism and more to do with the gentrification of its Eastern quarters, with affluent mostly white Belgians and foreigners moving into the area over the past decade or so, property value is on the rise.

The cultural fusion of immigrants, in the western region, is an otherwise bright light on the dark narrative of terrorism that has beset this Brussels community.

In understanding the minds of those involved in terrorist activity, it may be important to note, that many participate to give themselves some sense of purpose, not easily had while living day-to-day in ghastly slums, with difficult immigration policies, low access to sustainable employment at livable wages, and xenophobia. That coupled with the absence of a directional figure in a young man’s life and a misinterpretation of the Islāmic text may be the ingredients for eventual tragedy.

This is an area that has bred susceptibility to poor North African Muslims joining the Islāmic State, and where key suspects in both the Paris bombings on November 13, 2015 and the Belgian attacks were plotting their deadly missions.

On the morning of March 22, three coordinated bombings occurred in Belgium, two at the city’s main airport, and one at a downtown subway station.

Hours after the attacks, police were pointed to a home in Schaerbeek by a taxi driver now considered essential to the investigation, who shuttled the suspects to the Brussels Airport. The driver found it suspicious that the assailants did not want help with their bags. They raided the home and found a nail bomb, 15 kilograms (33 lb) of acetone peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, and an ISIL flag. They also found a computer belonging to Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, 29 and 27, born and bred in Belgium, who carried out two suicide bombings during the attacks. The brothers were the sons of Moroccan immigrants, who were devout Muslims.

The so-called Islāmic State, also known as ISIS, has claimed responsibility, according to the blog of Amaq Agency, which is affiliated to the terrorist group.

Pepijn Kennis, 27, a social worker, told USA Today the problems with disaffected Muslim and other youths in Brussels are deep and decades old. Officials have not worked hard enough to integrate into the Belgian mainstream unemployed Muslims and other immigrants who may feel alienated, disgruntled and open to radicalism.

“It’s always difficult to bring together people of different social classes, people who are very different,” Kennis said. “But people are living next to each other here, rather than living together.”