Friday, June 21, 2024

Deadly attack in Belgium sparks heated debate over failed deportation policy

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The alleged attacker The man who killed two Swedish soccer fans He was living in Belgium illegally until he was shot dead by police in Brussels this week and should have left the country three years ago, but never did.

In countries where repeatedly rocked by militant attacksThe government’s failure to expel the 45-year-old Tunisian and stop him from carrying out the attack has sparked intense political debate.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson traveled to Brussels on Wednesday to attend a memorial service for the victims and meet with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, but many questions remained unanswered.

How could a man who was recorded by the police, considered radicalized and asked to be deported remain on Belgian soil? How did he obtain a semi-automatic rifle and launch such an attack?

Investigators are still trying to determine the motive for Monday night’s attack. The incident occurred not far from where the Belgian men’s soccer team was hosting Sweden. European Championship qualifying. It was the latest in a long list of extremist attacks to hit Belgium, including a 2016 suicide bombing that killed 32 people and injured hundreds more in the Brussels metro and airport.

Authorities believe the suspect acted alone.

Sweden raised its terror alert level to its second-highest level in August. A series of public Quran burnings Incidents involving Iraqi refugees living in Sweden led to threats from Islamic militants. Asked whether this could be the motive for this week’s attack, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office said it was too early to tell.

Outgunned by his political opponents, who were quick to criticize the flaws in Belgium’s deportation policy, Mr. Decroo stressed the need to step up enforcement of orders to withdraw from Belgian territory.

“Orders to leave the territory need to be more binding than they are now,” he said. “People who have no right to protection should leave the territory.”

“If two people die, you can only say that things went wrong,” Decroux added.

He also called for stronger protection of the European Union’s external borders and a coordinated return policy across the 27-nation bloc.

Kristersson does not blame the Belgian authorities for not returning the suspects to their home country, because “we have exactly the same problem in Sweden, where there are so many people who have been refused asylum but refuse to leave the country.” said.

According to Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborn, the suspect was denied asylum in 2020. The suspect was suspected of involvement in human trafficking, being in Belgium illegally and being a risk to national security.

Nicole de Moor, Secretary of State for Refugees and Immigration, said Belgian authorities had lost track of the suspect after his asylum request was rejected because he did not want to be held in a reception centre. Authorities were unable to locate him to arrange his deportation.

But government critics pointed out that after the attack, police were able to quickly locate his address and raid his apartment in Brussels. Belgian federal prosecutor Frédéric van Leeuw said the gunman was recognized on video and people helped identify and track him.

Bernard Clercfay, a Brussels minister and mayor of the Brussels borough where the killing took place, called for the resignation of immigration commissioner De Moor.

“Thousands of departure orders have not been fulfilled, and what’s more, the procedure does not have provisions to trace the addresses of all these people,” Clercfay told La Première radio on Wednesday.

Prosecutor Van Leeuw said Belgian authorities had given little indication of the suspect’s radicalization. They received information from an unidentified foreign government in 2016 that the man had become radicalized, but could not act because Belgian authorities could not substantiate it, he said. Since then, they have shown no signs of radicalization. “Radicalization is not a crime either,” he said.

Jesper Tengros, a spokesperson for the Swedish Immigration Agency, told Swedish Public Radio that the suspected gunman lived in Sweden from 2012 to 2014, spent part of that period in prison, and then moved to other EU countries. He said he was sent to.

Official statistics show that of the 25,292 people ordered to leave Belgium in 2022, only 5,497 respected the order. According to various estimates, around 150,000 people are currently living in Belgium illegally. On average, only about one in three people in the European Union actually leaves the EU if their asylum application fails.

Forced deportations have a dark history in Belgium. In 1998, Samira Adamu, a Nigerian asylum seeker whose claim was rejected, was suffocated by security officials on her flight back to Africa after resisting deportation. The interior minister at the time resigned over the scandal.

Theo Franken, a lawmaker from the right-wing Flemish nationalist party N-VA, said Belgian authorities should be tougher on criminals and radicalized individuals.

“This really has to be the government’s focus. It would be a big mistake not to do this,” he said.

Meanwhile, Swedish public broadcaster SVT identified one of the victims as 60-year-old Patrik Lundström, described by his family as an “incurable soccer fan” who followed the national team through good times and bad. It was praised.

The fact that the gunman used a semi-automatic rifle highlights another serious problem for Belgium: the widespread availability of weapons in a country struggling to combat fierce drug trafficking. .

“There is a lot of demand for this type of weapon because of drug crimes,” Nils Duque, head of the Flanders Peace Research Institute and weapons expert, told VRT News. “Nowadays, it’s not just felons who are acquiring these types of weapons, but more and more petty criminals as well.”


Raf Cassart in Brussels contributed.

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