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Lessons of Brussels

The vicious attack on the Brussels airport and metro underscores the futility of focusing on the Syrian “Caliphate” as the epicenter of terrorism: as I’ve been saying in this space since 2001, the snake has no head. Both al-Qaeda and now ISIS are protean entities with a vast geographical spread, and what the Brussels attack – and, before it, the Paris attack – show is that they have successfully colonized Europe.

If the “Islamic State” proclaimed by ISIS was defeated and eliminated tomorrow, the terrorist and criminal networks that pulled off the Brussels attacks would still exist.

The population of Brussels is nearly 25 percent immigrants from Muslim countries, primarily Morocco and Algeria. And as it turns out the two brothers who were the core of the ISIS cell were habitués of the now notorious Molenbeek neighborhood, which consists primarily of the descendants of immigrants who settled there decades ago. Poor, and beset by petty crime, it is a pool in which terrorist recruiters fish with much success. The Syrian civil war has become a cause that attracts young toughs with no prospects, who are looking for some sense of meaning – and a way to express their alienation from the larger society in which they live. Molenbeek was also the base for those who planned and carried out the Paris attacks – it is, in effect, a general headquarters for ISIS to carry out its European operations. Salah Abdeslam, the chief planner of the Paris attacks, fled there and found sanctuary for four months before being caught.

In short, the problem of terrorism in Europe is an internal phenomenon, not something that comes from the outside. The Europeans imported it – and, as Germany’s welcoming of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the war-torn Middle East dramatizes, they are continuing to import it. Now they are living with the consequences.

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