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Explosions in Antwerp: a war between drugs clans?

© Belga
Damaged vehicles in the vicinity of the latest explosion
© Belga

The recent wave of explosions in Antwerp is almost certainly a sign of a clash between rival drugs clans, according to city mayor Bart De Wever. But he also blamed drugs users who help maintain the gangs in existence. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a car parked in the north of Antwerp burned out after an explosion, thought to have been caused by a grenade. It was the seventh such incident in three weeks. Police, fire service and army bomb squad attended the scene, the street was closed off and the car towed away for forensic examination.

Speaking later, De Wever appeared resigned. This sort of violence on the margins of the drugs trade “would not disappear soon,” he said. “Anyone who pretends there is a simple solution to this problem is lying.” The city introduced additional security measures, including an increased police presence both in uniform and plain clothes, more security camera surveillance and increased identity checks.

But De Wever also laid some of the blame on what he called “yoga sniffers” – ordinary civilians without whose demand for drugs the gangs would have no reason to exist. “It annoys me terribly, those people who protest about air quality, the yoga sniffers who apparently have no qualm about keeping criminal gangs in business,” he told VRT Radio 1.

The term “yoga sniffers” is apparently of Dutch origin, and refers, according to one report, to 20- and 30-year-olds who live healthy lives full of yoga, smoothies and fitness, and then turn to illegal drugs at the weekends.

According to an editorial on the VRT News website, the extra measures taken by Antwerp are administrative in nature, while the criminal investigation of the violence appears stalled. The prosecutor’s office admitted as much in a press release, and gave an explanation which points clearly towards criminal gangs and their well-known operational methods:

“Victims are not inclined to cooperate with the investigation,” the communique says. “One the one hand out of fear of reprisals, and on the other so as not to be identified as a suspect. That is typical of a criminal organisation, which has no compunction against using violence, and which ensures there is no cooperation with police services.”

In related news, following a major discovery of cocaine at the port of Ghent last week, it was revealed yesterday that police and customs in Antwerp also uncovered a large shipment of cocaine weighing 1.5 tonnes.

The discovery was made last Friday but kept quiet while the smugglers were traced. Dutch police have arrested 14 suspects in Kapelle in Zeeland, a town on the banks of the Scheldt estuary leading to Antwerp harbour.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times