Several hundred troops in Belgium are being stationed at potential terrorism targets, including Jewish sites and foreign embassies, after a police raid on an Islamist cell that had been planning an attack, Reuters reported. “It’s very important to say that this wasn’t a simple decision, but it was necessary, at a time when police are overly engaged, for the army to enter in a supporting role,” Belgium’s Defense Minister Steven Vandeput said.
Vandeput will deploy as many as 300 soldiers to reinforce police at various locations in Brussels, such as the Jewish Museum, the U.S. and Israeli embassies, and European Union and NATO institutions.
Belgium authorities raised the national threat level to 3 on a scale of 1 to 4 this week. They did it after police killed two Islamist gunmen and injured another during a raid in the east Belgian town of Verviers on Thursday. The terrorists were allegedly preparing for an attack on Belgian police, Reuters said. The anti-terror raid came one week after unrelated terrorist attacks in France killed 17 people.
Troops will also be deployed in the city of Antwerp, which is home to a large Jewish community and thus at risk for an attack. Soldiers armed with machine-guns were seen standing outside Jewish schools. “In Antwerp, the largest threat is there,” Vandeput reportedly said, referring to the Jewish population. “It is also where people are most worried.”
A large number of Belgians, who were coaxed by the Islamic State group to join its fighters in Syria, have returned home radicalized and are a growing threat of Islamic extremism in the small European country. Some 300 Muslim Belgians have traveled to Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East to fight on the battlefield. About one-third have returned, according to the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College in London.
“Belgium is experiencing the same types of problem that you see in France,” Ian Lesser, senior director for foreign and security policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told USA Today. “In many cases, the society in Belgium is more transnational, more connected to North Africa and Syria and Iraq.”