Countering Daesh Extremism, Perspectives from Belgium

By Didier Leroy
Submitted to Session P5021 (Analyzing the Islamic State: Strategies and Counter-strategies, 2017 Annual Meeting
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Countering Daesh Extremism - Perspectives from Belgium

Since its sudden rise in 2012 and subsequent swift expansion across swathes of Iraq and Syria, Daesh has triggered an unprecedented flux of 30.000 migrating foreign terrorist fighters (FTF’s) joining its self-proclaimed “Caliphate” from more than 100 different countries. (SPECKHARD, 2016)

While several EU member States have been severely affected by this phenomenon, Belgium has become more specifically the focal point of media attention since most members of the commandos that targeted Paris in November 2015 and Brussels in March 2016 came from the Belgian capital. The “heart of Europe” had previously been finger-pointed as having provided the largest contingent of European FTF’s per capita to the Syrian battlefield, but these late attacks further associated municipalities like Molenbeek-Saint-Jean to major hubs of homegrown European jihadism.

Drawing from a Brussels-based daily monitoring of the associated topicality, this paper will firstly attempt to synthesize Daesh-linked activities in Belgium from the first departures involving members of radical Salafi movement “Sharia4Belgium” until the recent threats emanating from Raqqa against Prime Minister Charles Michel in the summer of 2016.

Secondly, it will propose an analysis of the major features that characterize the “Belgian foreign fighters” and their motivations. Adding data from qualitative interviews led in Belgium and in the Levant region since 2012 to previous research (COOLSAET, 2016), specific attention will be paid to the staggering over-representation of young fighters coming from the second or third generation of Moroccan immigration (roughly 80% of the total contingent). The main theoretical avenue that will be explored here will be that of “re-islamization process” , which typically takes place outside of family education and official mosques networks. (AMGHAR, 2006)

Thirdly, it will assess in a EU-scaled comparative approach the national response that has been given so far to this ongoing threat at home and abroad (in Iraq and Syria), before concluding with future perspectives on the broader fight against the “Daesh phenomenon”.