Belgium says 650 jihadists, other extremists on radar

Belgium says 650 jihadists, other extremists on radar

Belgium’s anti-terrorist agency on Tuesday said 650 people considered to have jihadist and other extremist ties are under surveillance in the country.

The data was published as Belgian officials stress they are doing everything to prevent attacks after at least 139 people were killed in Moscow in a massacre claimed by the Islamic State.

Belgium was deeply shaken by IS bombings in 2016 and its latest brush with jihadist violence came last October when a Tunisian gunman killed two Swedes in an attack claimed by the group.

The 650 individuals are part of a list that all security forces can access, and 88% “follow a jihadist ideology,” the Ocam agency said.

Among them, 426 individuals are identified as “foreign terrorist fighters” — people who travelled or sought to travel to a conflict zone to rally a terrorist movement.

About 9% and 2% of the individuals are under surveillance because of their far-right and extreme-left links.

The other 1% represent “various threats” that are anti-elite or linked to political strife overseas.

Belgium’s terror level remains high at three, one below the highest, which means there is a “serious” but not “very serious” risk of an attack.

Neighboring France raised its level on Sunday.

“To move to level four, we really need to have concrete elements of an imminent attack and at the moment, we do not have these elements in Belgium,” said Ocam chief, Gert Vercauteren.

This level, which applies to the whole country, does not exclude the possibility of an increase on a local level or for certain events and sensitive visits, he added.

The 650 figure for 2023 represents a drop of around 7% compared with 2022.

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