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Troops patrol Brussels, Belgium on Saturday, November 21, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Brussels Maintains State of Emergency as European Crackdown Grows

Officials tighten security measures in former border-free zone amid terror warnings

Nadia Prupis

Brussels remained under lockdown for the second day on Sunday as authorities continued to search for the suspects behind this month's attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Belgian officials, who have repeatedly rejected criticisms of their security measures, are expected to meet later during the day to discuss whether to maintain the state of emergency amid fears of a similar attack.

The city's terror warning jumped to maximum level on Saturday over threats that "go beyond just one person," according to Interior Minister Jan Jambon, who spoke to broadcaster VRT over the weekend. "We're assuming larger actions are underway."

As soldiers and armored vehicles crawled throughout the city, the capital of Belgium came to a standstill, with public transportation out of service, businesses shut, concerts and sports games cancelled, and museums and other landmarks closed.

While the metro is likely to resume service on Monday, the city-wide shuttering is the latest development following a series of aggressive crackdowns by European ministers who vowed on Friday to tighten the Schengen zone's once-free borders.

As Common Dreams reported at the time:

European ministers, gathered in Brussels on Friday one week after the Paris attacks, vowed to tighten external border controls, backing France's call for a fundamental revision of the so-called Schengen deal to allow the "systematic" controlling of EU citizens at borders.

[....] According to news outlets, EU interior and justice ministers also agreed to speed new legislation to share air passengers' data, which Deutsche Welle notes "EU lawmakers have long opposed on privacy grounds," and pledged "systematic registration, including fingerprinting, of all migrants entering into the Schengen area."

Yet it remains unclear what impact these sweeping measures would have on counter-terrorism efforts. As Reuters reported on Sunday, authorities missed many "red flags" that could have allowed them to catch the suspects before the Paris attacks took place.

And the restrictions Belgians now face may have even more far-reaching impacts. As New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny explained in an analysis published last week, extremist groups may in fact be "looking forward" to knee-jerk reductions of civil liberties.

ISIS and similar organizations "aren’t worried about the prospect of more air strikes, more civilian casualties, more callousness on the borders of Europe, more security clampdowns at its heart," Penny wrote. "They are looking forward to all of that."

"They’re probably rubbing their hands at the xenophobic attacks taking place right now across the continent, at the conservative calls for crackdowns on Muslims, at the imminent passing of further surveillance legislation that has proved dubiously effective in catching terrorists but extremely efficient in curbing the individual freedoms of ordinary civilians," she continued. "What ISIS wants is a holy war between two violently homogeneous civilizations, and the only way it will get that is if the West starts to behave like one."


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