We live in very unstable times right now. How is the global community going to be able to address this issue of terror?
Europe’s security services had feared a bloody terrorist outrage in Brussels since the high-profile arrest of Paris failed suicide bomber Salah Abdeslam in the city four days ago.
Intelligence officers today described the attacks in the Belgian capital as ‘sadly expected’ both as a ‘revenge’ for the arrest of Europe’s most wanted man but also ironically because the jihadists knew that HE could betray them.
For while the Brussels-born Islamist had become a symbol of defiance for the jihadist movement and Islamic State during his extraordinary four months on the run under the noses of Belgium’s biggest manhunt, his dramatic arrest on a street in the Molenbeek district of the city also signalled the net could be closing on those he had plotted with.
Crucially, Belgian investigators had already suggested that Abdeslam was co-operating with them and his fellow jihadists would have known that he could betray them – and their plans.
Intelligence officers told MailOnline the concerns of his fellow terrorists would have been fuelled by the fact that twice Abdeslam had ‘pulled back’ from killing himself by triggering a suicide vest – once in Paris and again on the day of his arrest.
‘This showed a weakness, a desire to live which would have been played on during questioning,’ an anti-terror specialist said today.
‘He was not a man showing inner strength and the capacity to withstand interrogation, this meant that if those involved in today’s attacks were known to him they believed they had to activate their plans before they too were arrested and their weapons seized.’
Mobile telephones, laptops and CCTV footage recovered from the basement apartment Abdeslam was hiding in are also likely to have provided clues as to the identities and locations of fellow terror suspects, many of them living in Molenbeek which is seen by many investigators as being the ‘heart’ of IS operations in Europe.
‘At this stage we can’t be sure those behind today’s attacks are directly associated with Abdeslam but it is certainly fair to say the suicide attacks will be linked to his detention,’ the anti-terror specialist added.
‘They send a clear message to the authorities that they have arrested a well-known suspect but there are many more out there prepared to do what Abdeslam was not willing to do: blow himself up.
‘They will know that this is the hardest thing to stop and there are still a lot of explosive devices out there.’
He added: ‘There is the obvious fear that this is only the beginning of attacks against soft targets both in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe. A departure lounge, like a tube station, is an easy target but it also has the ‘advantage’ from the terrorist perspective of a focused attack – the chances are there would be Americans – the priority for IS – waiting to check-in at an American Airlines desk.’
Abdeslam is believed to be the sole survivor of the 10 men who were directly involved in the attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris on November 13.
A suicide vest was said to have been found in the Molenbeek flat where Abdeslam had been sheltered and similar devices have been seized in other raids as well as having been used in the Stade de France bombings last November.