Belgian PM dismisses security criticisms after attacks

  • 07/04/2016
A police officer controls access to Belgian International Airport (Reuters)
A police officer controls access to Belgian International Airport (Reuters)

By Robert-Jan Bartunek and Philip Blenkinsop

Two weeks after Islamic State suicide bombers killed 32 people in Brussels, Belgium's prime minister has acknowledged failures in security over the attacks, but forcefully rejected foreign criticism.

Fielding questions from international media on Wednesday, Charles Michel dismissed suggestions that Belgium was a "failed state" or that it should reverse the political decentralisation that some say let the militants, also blamed for attacks in Paris in November, evade detection due to poor police co-ordination.

In a swipe at criticism from France, the United States and others, Michel said the failure to find the prime surviving suspect in the Paris attacks for four months before he was caught close to his family home in Brussels was far from the embarrassment some have suggested.

"Some people said it was scandalous to take a few months to arrest Salah Abdeslam.

"For Bin Laden, sought by all police throughout the world, it was 10 years after September 11 and 3000 deaths in New York," Michel said, in reference to the al Qaeda leader killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011.

In a remark clearly aimed at French criticism since the Paris attacks over Belgian security, he mentioned a case in which it took French police four years to find the killer on Corsica of the chief state representative on the island.

He said Belgium convicted more than 100 people on terrorism charges last year and foiled major attacks.

Saying that no government could guarantee total security, Michel made repeated references to Islamist militants succeeding in carrying out attacks in France, the United States, Britain, Spain and elsewhere and said Belgium had been a pioneer in pushing for greater international co-ordination of intelligence - something many larger states have been hesitant about.

"It is possible to do more in Belgium and everywhere in the world, but I cannot accept that there is a failed state," he said.

"At the European table, we are systematically the most determined to advance a strategy of increased co-operation."

It was "totally false", he said, to describe Belgium as the weakest link in European security.

The attacks in Brussels were evidence by definition, he said, of "failure", but he noted his government's plans to spend more on security and change laws to enhance the authorities' capabilities.