Overview: Belgium continues to make incremental improvements to CT-related policy, information-sharing practices, and resource allotments, which have enhanced authorities’ abilities to investigate and prevent terrorist attacks. Belgium actively shares terrorist and criminal information with the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. However, Belgium’s highly decentralized government presents challenges to effective internal information sharing and cooperation, and the caretaker status of Belgium’s government throughout 2019 hampered its ability to make meaningful policy advancements. Belgian law enforcement authorities remain under-resourced. The Belgian criminal code’s short sentencing guidelines limit the criminal justice system’s ability to deter and prevent terrorist activity. The country’s greatest terrorism threat is homegrown terrorism, including both Islamist extremism and, to a lesser extent, REMT, which Belgium calls “violent right-wing extremism.” Belgium is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and plans to resume contributing troops and airstrike capabilities to the Defeat ISIS military campaign in 2020.
Terrorist Incidents: There were no terrorist attacks in Belgium during 2019. However, security forces interrupted a small number of attacks in the planning stages and also intervened with persons providing material support to terrorists. The following list provides a sampling of successful interventions:
- On January 24, police arrested three individuals (in Bruges, Leuven, and Molenbeek) on suspicion of participation in terrorist activities. After releasing the individual from Leuven, prosecutors charged the remaining two in October with funding a terrorist group.
- On March 15, the Belgian Federal Police arrested an individual who had anonymously placed an online threat against the Antwerp Central train station in retaliation for the March 2019 New Zealand mosque attacks.
- On June 22, police arrested Matthew Govaert in Brussels for plotting an attack against the U.S. Embassy in Brussels.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Belgium’s primary CT-related actors include the Belgian Federal Police, the civilian and military security and intelligence services, and the Office of the Federal Prosecutor. The Ministry of Interior maintains a Crisis Center. The interagency Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis, consisting of representatives from the ministries of Interior, Justice Finance, Treasury, and Transport, as well as the security sector, assesses and sets country-wide threat level ratings and maintains Belgium’s database of foreign fighters, hate preachers, and homegrown terrorists. The National Security Council also plays a significant role in intelligence and security decisions. Belgium’s highly devolved government structure presents challenges to effective internal communication and cooperation between Belgium’s numerous law enforcement and criminal justice entities. Government-wide resource constraints impair Belgium’s ability to proactively detect, deter, and prevent acts of terrorism. As of December 2019, Belgium had failed to fully implement July 2018 amendments to its criminal code allowing the use of civil information. Belgium’s short prison sentences continued to reduce the efficacy of an amendment in 2018 allowing plea bargaining. Belgium implemented the EU PNR directive for airport travelers through the establishment of the Belgian Passenger Information Unit in early 2018 and has continued, throughout 2019, to integrate additional airline companies and to test practical implications for adding PNR analytic capabilities on additional transport modes, such as international rail and bus systems. In 2019, Belgium held the chair of Europol’s Informal Working Group on PNR, hosting meetings that resulted in proposals to carry PNR forward Europe-wide.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Belgium is a member of the FATF. Its FIU, the Belgian Financial Intelligence Processing Unit, is a member of the Egmont Group. Belgium is also a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s Counter-ISIS Finance Group (CIFG). On September 12, 2019, a Belgian court sentenced Amadou Mugabo to 100 hours of community service and fines for financial support of terrorism after it was uncovered that he was sending funds to a known FTF in Syria or Iraq.
Countering Violent Extremism: Belgium’s federal, regional, and local governments remained engaged in CVE efforts through 2019, despite ongoing institutional and resource constraints. Local task forces constituted in 2014 and expanded in 2018 continue to meet to coordinate CVE responses among local security, municipal, and social services personnel, a key recommendation of the Parliamentary Investigative Commission’s final report on the March 22, 2016, terrorist attacks in Brussels. In March, after negotiations between the two countries, Saudi Arabia relinquished control of the Brussels Grand Mosque in alignment with the Parliamentary Investigative Commission’s finding that Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League was partially responsible for the Islamist extremism that motivated the perpetrators of the 2016 attacks in Belgium. In December, Belgium’s prison population included at least 227 persons jailed for links to ISIS or al-Qa’ida. Prisoners charged or convicted with terrorism-related offenses were generally transferred to prisons with segregated sections for radicalized inmates, though many become eligible for parole upon completing one third to two thirds of a typical five-year sentence. Prisoner rehabilitation resources remained minimal, and regional governments continued to struggle to fill vacancies for positions with CVE responsibilities. The Belgian cities of Antwerp and Vilvoorde are members of the SCN, and city officials from Antwerp traveled to San Diego and Los Angeles as part of the program in October. In November, Belgian officials from Liege and Verviers traveled to the United States to exchange best practices on preventing and countering terrorism with officials from Nashville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, under the City-Pair Program.
International and Regional Cooperation: Belgium participates in CT efforts with the EU, NATO, the OSCE, and CoE, and Belgium is a member of the advisory board of the UN Counterterrorism Center. Belgium’s Michèle Coninsx remained Executive Director of the UN Counterterrorism Executive Directorate throughout 2019. Belgium used its nonpermanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC) during 2019 to promote prison deradicalization and awareness of the humanitarian consequences of counterterror actions. Belgium is also an active contributor to the subcommittees of the UNSC that deal with counterterror. Belgium is a troop-contributing member of the European Union Training Mission in Mali. Belgium is also a troop-contributing member of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Belgium participated in all EU efforts to interdict FTF travel across land and maritime borders, encouraged efforts to strengthen Schengen zone external borders, and maintained a leading role in the European Strategic Communication Network.