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Belgian Ambassador: 'This Is Not Going To Intimidate Us In Any Way'


Last summer, authorities in Turkey deported a man. His name was Ibrahim el Bakraoui. He was sent away to the Netherlands. Turkish authorities say they warned he was a suspected extremist fighter.


For whatever reason, he was released. He ended up in Belgium, and el Bakraoui has now been identified as one of this week's suicide bombers in Brussels. These emerging details underlie the complexity of stopping attacks on Europe.

INSKEEP: The task requires collaboration among the agencies of many nations, which is not so easy. Shortly before the latest news broke, we talked through the challenge with Belgium's ambassador to the United States. He is Johan Verbeke. Is it fair to focus, as people have, on Brussels as a hotbed of extremism?

JOHAN VERBEKE: Well, I think the problem of terrorism is not just linked to one country or one region of the world. We've seen terrorism emerging not just in Europe but also in the Middle East and increasingly in Africa. So it's really a worldwide phenomenon that we have to tackle as a global coalition.

INSKEEP: Given that that's true, what has drawn certain people, do you think, to Brussels as a place of operations and also caused some Belgians to go over to Syria?

VERBEKE: Well, I think that as far as Belgium is concerned, we are an extremely open country. We have the windows open to the world at large. So given that people come in and out and so on certainly it is an asset, in many respects, but sometimes also a liability, as we see.

INSKEEP: I like how you phrase that. We've had the windows open, you said. Is it time to close some windows though?

VERBEKE: Well, no. I don't think Belgium will close its windows to the world because it's not in our mindset. We live as world citizens, and we are not going to change our lifestyle because a bunch of terrorists are making our lives difficult.

INSKEEP: Of course, the way to survive in a situation like that, where you want to remain open, is to have very strong intelligence, very strong law enforcement.

VERBEKE: Yes, yeah.

INSKEEP: It must be frustrating to you that your government knew there had been an arrest on Friday, seemed to know that there could be some kind of response to the arrest of that Paris terror suspect, but still was unable to prevent it.

VERBEKE: Well, indeed, that's quite frustrating. We were, as you rightly say, increasingly aware that all the networks were operating. But we didn't have the time to neutralize the action. And perhaps the terrorists have precipitated their actions as well, knowing that we were on the right track.

INSKEEP: What have you thought when you've read - as I'm sure you've had in the last few days - scathing remarks, anonymous usually, by American intelligence or law-enforcement officials about Belgium's capabilities?

VERBEKE: Well, that is not what we hear on a more official level. I had the opportunity yesterday to meet your homeland security secretary, and he confirmed what I asked him; that is, are you satisfied about the way we work together? And he said, yes we are. We have a lot of indication, we have even things in writing where people say we are quite satisfied about the way we work together. There is always, of course, room for improvement. And we have been discussing some of those points where our cooperation could be intensified. But overall, there is a high level of satisfaction.

INSKEEP: One more question, what danger, if any, is there that this incident will contribute to the various forces that seem to be pulling Europe apart?

VERBEKE: Well, that depends upon how we react. As for Belgium, I can tell you that this is not going to intimidate us in any way. On the contrary, if you give in, then the terrorists have won. Also I would like to stress that the Belgian people generally are kind of no-nonsense people. So that's the way to tackle it, not to feel intimidated and just get on.

INSKEEP: Ambassador Johan Verbeke, thank you very much.

VERBEKE: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: He is Belgium's ambassador to the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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