Jason Burke writes: On a bleak day in November, Annelise Augustyns led her two children to the playground near their home in Brussels. Just over a week before, Islamist militants had killed 130 people and injured many more in a series of attacks in Paris. The Belgian capital had been under unprecedented lockdown for three days amid fears of a new attack there. Several of the Paris attackers had been traced to the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek, a few miles from Augustyns’ apartment. They included at least one man who was now on the run.
To protect the population, the Belgian government had shut schools, cancelled sporting events and deployed soldiers on the streets. If the scenes were reminiscent of earlier conflicts, the enemy now was very different: a hybrid terrorist and insurgent entity in the Middle East calling itself the Islamic State.
Augustyns, a local government administrator, glanced at the armoured vehicle posted outside the entrance of the Gare du Midi. “We are worried of course,” she told me. “But what to do? We have to get on with our lives.”
Her words summed up the feelings of many across Europe that week, and indeed across much of the world last year. If 2014 was a year that set a grisly new record in the number of casualties inflicted by terrorist attacks – 33,000 people were killed, almost double the year before – then 2015 appears to have been worse. [Continue reading…]