Originally published in The Telegraph.
Recap of the day’s events
- 34 people were killed and upwards of 200 wounded in three separate explosions in Brussels. The first two came in the check-in area of Zaventem airport, and the third at a central metro station.
- Police have issued a wanted notice for a man pictured at the airport prior to the attack along with two suspects who are believed to have blown themselves up. Raids are underway, and one unidentified man has been detained.
- Isil has claimed responsibility for the bombings, which came just days after Salah Abdeslam – wanted in connection with the November Paris attacks – was captured
- Britain has stepped up airport security, and warned against travel to Belgium as world leaders have condemned the attacks
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.