Brussels attacks: Were they revenge for Abdeslam’s arrest?

Jason Burke writes: Revenge strike? Evidence of a tragic combination of a new cell and incompetent security services? A last effort by the battered network of Salah Abdeslam, the logistician for last year’s Paris attacks who was arrested in Brussels on Friday? Or – given that we still have very few details of Tuesday morning’s events – none of the above?

The explosions in Brussels underline various basic and important points.

The first is that, clearly, any threat from Islamic militants to Europe may rise and fall, but does not disappear when a single figure is arrested, however much he was sought. The “major blow” struck on Friday, as senior policymakers called it, now looks less major.

The second is that both terrorists and those trying to stop them seek to keep the initiative. This has a practical and a psychological aspect. For counter-terrorist agencies, the aim is to get information fast enough to mount raids and sweep up suspects before they even have time to work out who among them has been detained and who might have talked, let alone plan a new strike. Networks quickly fall apart under such relentless pressure, as was shown in Iraq in the middle of the last decade.

For the terrorists, the aim is to show they can still terrorise, mobilise and polarise with violence. This is not so much about revenge, but simply demonstrating a continued capability. They may be down but, they are saying, they are not out. [Continue reading…]

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