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Originally published in The Telegraph.
The Henry Jackson Society said the attacks on the Brussels transport infrastructure demonstrated “the long-standing threat posed by returning foreign fighters”.
It said that while the perpetrators had yet to be identified, it is probable that they are linked to Saleh Abdeslam – one of the organisers of last year’s Paris attacks who was arrested in Brussels last week – and Islamic State.
One possibility is that this operation was brought forward in anticipation that information divulged by Abdeslam – as suggested by Belgian prosecutors – would lead to their arrests.
Up to 450 Belgians have travelled to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq, more per head of population than any other European country, pointed out the Henry Jackson Society.
It said the cell responsible for the Paris attacks was not only directed by Islamic State, but also featured individuals who had trained and fought abroad before returning to Europe to carry out mass-casualty terrorist attacks.
HJS analysis has shown that foreign training or combat experience has been a distinguishing feature of Islamism-inspired terrorism in the UK for over 15 years. Seven of the eight major plots between 1999 and 2010, for example, contained cell members who had either fought or trained abroad, bringing back both bomb-making expertise and weapons training.
Many also received direction from jihadist operatives or had returned from training camps in order to establish sleeper cells.