Mohamed Belkaïd, the Algerian national shot dead in Forest on Tuesday, was higher up in the terrorist network than Salah Abdeslam, jihadi expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen told the Belga agency. Abdeslam was arrested on Friday. The role played by Amine Chourki, who was arrested alongside Salah Abdeslam, is still unknown.
“The fact that Abdeslam was brought in alive is significant, as we could get more information from him. But Belkaïd being killed in Forest on Tuesday is probably more significant”, Pieter Van Ostaeyen said on Saturday.
The terrorist expert is convinced that the media have focused on Abdeslam too much over the last few months. “Belkaïd was much more important. He was probably a coordinator. Obviously, more information may lead back to Abdeslam, but right now, it would appear he was just a link in the chain”.
That said, the jihadist expert thinks Belkaïd’s death and Abdeslam’s arrest are big blows against the Syrian jihadist network in Belgium. But that doesn’t mean the terrorist threat has disappeared. “I am sure there are other networks. Forest was probably just one of numerous hideouts Belkaïd had at his disposal”, Mr Van Ostaeyen added. “There are also still people like Mohamed Abrini (a suspect still on the run, caught on film with Salah Abdeslam in a service station in Northern France two days before the attacks in Paris) to worry about. I can therefore understand the decision to keep the terrorist threat level at 3”.
Mr Van Ostaeyen also said that the Islamic State’s reaction to this week’s events was unpredictable. “They will be in touch, no doubt. But I have no idea what form that will take.”