How Did A Tiny Belgian District Become Europe’s Terrorism Hotbed?

How did a small Brussels district become the breeding ground for extremism in Western Europe? What makes Molenbeek a fertile ground for extremism?

After terror hit Belgium at Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station, leaving – as of the time of writing – 34 people dead, spotlight turned on the capital city’s terrorism hotbed Molenbeek.

Despite being a tiny suburb, Molenbeek has purportedly become the breeding ground for extremism in Western Europe. For example, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, reportedly one of the masterminds behind the November attacks in Paris – was from the small Belgian neighborhood.

“Almost every time there’s a link with Molenbeek,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said at the time. “We’ve tried prevention. Now we’ll have to get repressive. It’s been a form of laisser faire and laxity. Now we’re paying the bill.”

But what caused Molenbeek to gain the tragic reputation of a militant factory?

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Apparently, there are several reasons, first and foremost poverty and unemployment.

With a population of about 100,000, the overall unemployment rate in Molenbeek is about 30% while among the youth it’s 40%.

Add these stats to a feeling of marginalization and discrimination – 30 per cent of the inhabitants hold a foreign nationality and another 40 per cent have foreign origins – and a government that fails to integrate communities, the district becomes a fertile recruiting ground for opportunist murderous thugs looking for henchmen.

Moreover, Brussels’ weak security has contributed to an increase in organized crime in Molenbeek, including drug and arms trafficking. For instance, due to weak security, one can buy a military weapon in Molenbeek in just €500-1,000 ($535-1,070) within a matter of thirty minutes.

The city has 19 districts with their own mayors who are in charge of six different police zones with their own local police forces.

"The fact that Brussels is politically and -- as to its police forces -- a little bit more divided than one would expect from such a big city creates additional problems as to surveillance," Belgium's minister of justice, Koen Geens told CNN.