Belgium to hire 1,000 more police to combat radicalism

AP News
Posted: Feb 05, 2016 11:25 AM
Belgium to hire 1,000 more police to combat radicalism

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Belgian government has approved a plan to combat Islamic radicalism and the threat of extremist violence by hiring 1,000 new police officers over the next four years.

The plan, presented Friday to reporters by Interior Minister Jan Jambon, calls for adding 300 officers this year, and more than 500 by 2017.

Jambon says 300 new officers will be added in Molenbeek and other neighborhoods with a history of radical Islamist activity. Ninety-six police investigators will be hired, and 260 TV cameras positioned to monitor movements on the highways.

The November attacks that killed 130 people in Paris were staged from neighboring Belgium, and a subsequent official investigation revealed how ineffective the surveillance of suspected radicals in the country has often been.

Belgium has also been one of the prime European recruiting grounds for foreign fighters enlisted by the Islamic State extremist group.

On Monday, the prime ministers of Belgium and France and their top justice, police and intelligence officials held an extraordinary meeting in Brussels, and agreed to step up cooperation in the counterterrorism field.

Under the new Belgian security plan, special attention is being paid to Molenbeek and seven other districts in the greater Brussels area that have produced large numbers of Muslim extremists and radicals. In a tweet, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said 300 of the new police hires would be sent to those neighborhoods. Earlier reports from RTBF French-language broadcasting and other Belgian media had put the number of new local officers earmarked for those areas at 100.

Michel also said the security upgrade would cost 300 million euros ($334 million).

Molenbeek, home to the suspected Paris attack ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud and three other attackers, became the symbol of the presence of Muslim radicalism in Belgium and the inability of authorities to stamp it out. Jambon said 50 of the new police hires will quickly be deployed there.

Law enforcement personnel will also be reinforced at Belgian airports and on the country's North Sea coast. Michel told a joint news conference with Jambon that 103 new hires will be made in the Belgian state security services.

"On the ground, we'll work together," Jambon told reporters at the beginning of Friday's meeting of Belgium's federal Cabinet.

According to the interior minister, the priorities will be combatting the foreign fighter phenomenon; shutting down illegal commerce in firearms, drugs and forged documents that is often linked to the extremists; drying up their other sources of revenue; and fighting attempts to radicalize Belgians, including through mosques or prayer rooms.

The Nov. 13 attacks that claimed 130 lives in Paris were also staged from Belgium, and at least four of the attackers, including suspected ringleader lived in Brussels, Belgium's capital.