The Belgian connections to Islamic radicalism

An armed policeman stands guard at the entrance of Belgium’s federal prosecutor office in Brussels on Friday.

Two days before 9/11, in the foothills of the Hindu Kush, Osama bin Laden pulled off one of his boldest assassinations. And there was a Belgian connection. Two “Belgian journalists” had been in the Panjshir valley of northern Afghanistan for weeks, supposedly waiting to interview Ahmad Shah Massoud, the so-called Lion of the Panjshir, leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, an al-Qaida adversary.

The killers, Tunisians, arrived bearing Belgian passports, posing as journalists for a Belgian TV station. When they were eventually granted their audience, their cameras turned out to be packed with explosives.

Islamic radicalism has a long pedigree in Belgium. The country’s geography makes it easy to travel back and forth between France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Verviers, the town where on Thursday police killed two Belgian “foreign fighters” not long back from Syria, bestrides the Dutch and German borders. Like much of Francophone eastern and southern Belgium, it is a town down on its luck. Its heyday as a centre of the textiles and wool business is long gone. Now it is one of the poorest towns in the country, and 20% of its population of 55,000 is of immigrant origin…

Related: Europe Terror: A tale of 2 separate but similar plots (compares the French and Belgian episodes).