Jihadists construct the Atomium bomb: YouTube video threat to Belgian tourist attraction

A plot to attack the Belgian capital stokes fears Europe will targeted by radicalised fighters returning from Syria. Charlotte McDonald-Gibson reports from Brussels

Brussels

The video clip posted on the YouTube account of Belgian teenager Brian De Mulder was brief, but the threat to one of Belgium’s biggest tourist attractions was chilling and clear.

Over the black-and-white flag of one of Syria’s Islamist rebel groups, a voice chants: “Bombs are falling. Atomium, I hear a bang. Body parts are everywhere.”

Mr De Mulder, 19, is one of hundreds of Europeans currently in Syria and believed to be fighting alongside the rebel groups trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

While it is not clear if he himself posted the threat against the Atomium, a huge monument of stainless steel spheres built for the 1958 World Fair, the video reflects the worst fears of law-enforcement agencies and governments across Europe.

Since Syria splintered into civil war in 2011, European Muslims – including up to 300 Britons – with motives ranging from idealism to more radical ideologies have been travelling there in increasing numbers. Now, dozens are returning home, and the fear is that they are no longer impressionable youngsters, but battle-hardened extremists.   

A clip from the YouTube video A clip from the YouTube video “By the time they have returned,” says Rob Wainwright, director of the EU-wide policing body Europol, “their extremist views might have been more entrenched and there is clearly a potential danger to society in terms of how they might manifest their views in direct action.”

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation last month estimated 1,900 Western Europeans are fighting in the Syrian conflict, more than triple the 600 there last  year.

EU citizens fighting in Syria pose threat of terror attacks when they return home, says domestic affairs chief  

Many are joining the extreme Islamist rebel groups including the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qa’ida affiliate blacklisted by the UN security council, according to The International Centre for Counter Terrorism (ICCT),  a think-tank based in The Hague.

The Dutch government was so concerned that these men and women could become radicalised and use their combat experience in attacks back home that they raised their terrorism threat level. France’s Minister of Interior, Manuel Valls, has called the phenomenon “a ticking time bomb”.

Dimitri Bontinck, from the Belgian city of Antwerp, does not regard his son as a ticking time bomb. He sees Jejoen as a young man with a bright future, who needs the love of his family and the support of the state to reintegrate back into society after eight months in Syria.

Jejoen, 18, travelled to Syria in March after converting to Islam and becoming involved with the outlawed group Sharia4Belgium. He returned home in October and was arrested.

Mr Bontinck says his son transported medical supplies, but the Belgian authorities suspected him of associating with a terrorist group or helping to recruit other youngsters. He spent seven weeks in jail, before being released under a curfew.

The Mayor of Antwerp, Bart De Wever, has also introduced a policy to strip people who travel to Syria of their right to residence. The local authorities have started the process to remove Jejoen from the civic register, his father says.

“Do you really think that this is the right way to bring children back?” asks Mr Bontinck. “In this way, nobody will ever return. This is stigmatising these children.”

Mr De Wever says his policy distinguishes between hardened fighters and “youngsters who have been misled by radical recruiters, or people who have travelled to Syria to help the suffering population”.

“They deserve a second chance,” he tells The Independent. But, he adds: “There is a hard core of fanatic fighters who have actively fought against all values our society stands for... To be frank, I don’t want these violent fanatics to return to Antwerp.”

The ICCT study found that governments across Europe have been puzzling over the legal options. Many are giving financial and logistical support to the rebels. This means authorities would struggle to criminalise the act of associating with a broad rebel movement that they themselves recognise as the legitimate rulers of Syria.

France has criminalised returning home after committing terrorist acts abroad, or attending terrorist training camps with the intention of returning home and staging attacks. In September, British police arrested four men suspected of attending terrorist training in Syria.

Nations are also focusing on preventing people leaving in the first place, with some confiscating the passports of potential fighters.

In the meantime, the families of the young men and women in Syria fret over  their wellbeing. Mr De Mulder’s aunt and sister have spoken of their devastation when he disowned them on his Facebook page. A father from Norway went to Turkey to retrieve his two teenage daughters who went to Syria to fight. One German family organised to have their 16-year-old son kidnapped and returned home.

Mr Bontinck sympathises with every one of them; he is just glad to have his boy back.

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before