PM rejects notion Belgium is Europe's weak security link

AP News
Posted: Apr 06, 2016 11:01 AM
PM rejects notion Belgium is Europe's weak security link

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium's prime minister acknowledged Wednesday that the country has made mistakes in combating violent extremism but rejected the notion that it has become Europe's weakest link in efforts to eradicate the threat.

"In the fight against terrorism, in all countries in the world and in Europe, there have been successes and there have been failures," Prime Minister Charles Michel said.

Belgium has succeeded in preventing many attacks, he said, and in 2015 alone successfully prosecuted scores of people on terrorism-related charges.

"If we were weak, then we would not have been able to convict 100 persons," he said.

Michel appeared before a group of largely foreign journalists to deliver what he called the "key message" that following the widespread disruption caused by the March 22 suicide bombings at Brussels Airport and in the capital's subway, "today we return to normal life in Brussels and Belgium."

Thirty-two people died in the attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State group. Three bombers were also killed.

The bombings, and missed signals in Belgium's investigations of many of those responsible for the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130, laid bare numerous failings by Belgian law enforcement and security services.

Michel said Belgian officials have been drawing the proper lessons, and that the priority will be improved information-sharing so suspects already known to authorities don't have the chance to mount attacks.

Belgium must show the world "it can improve what was a failure and has learned its lesson," Michel said.

Belgian investigators took more than four months to find and arrest key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.

"Some said you need so many months, it is too many," Michel said. But he noted it took nearly 10 years for the U.S. to track down and kill Osama Bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. that killed nearly 3,000.