The number of new cases of terrorist activity opened by the federal prosecutor’s office fell in 2019 to 90, compared with 155 in 2018.
The figure is significant as the first time since 2013 that numbers have been at the levels current before the outbreak of the crisis in Syria and the rise to prominence of terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS).
The numbers were last at such a low level in 2011, with 84 cases, and 2012, when there were 60. In the years that followed the numbers more than doubled, as follows: 2013 (150), and 2014 (195). Then came 2015, and the discovery of a terrorist cell in Verviers, followed by the attacks in Paris in November of that year, which would later turn out to have close links to Belgian IS cells (313). In 2016 (273), terrorist activity came onto Belgian soil, with attacks at Brussels Airport and the Brussels metro on 22 March. The slow decline continued in 2017 (251).
“The terrorist threat is no longer so strong,” federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw told Belga news agency. “With the fall of the caliphate, it is no longer very likely that we will again see such structured terrorism as that which was behind the attacks in Paris, Brussels and Zaventem.” The threat remains, however, from isolated individuals who continue to be inspired to commit an attack, in Belgium as elsewhere.
The caliphate refers to the territory taken by IS by force in their creation of what they dreamed of as a radical Islamic empire – the Islamic State of the group’s name.
The fall in the number of new dossiers does now mean, Van Leeuw stressed, that terrorism magistrates have less of a workload. The numbers of one year come in addition to the cases from the year or years before. In addition, he said, “Among other things we’re busy preparing all of the trials resulting from the cases opened in past years.”