Abdeslam arrest a 'victory' for Belgium, but questions remain

19th March 2016, Comments 0 comments

The arrest of key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam is a welcome "victory" for Belgium but questions over the underlying problem of Islamist extremism remain, the Belgian press said Saturday.

Abdeslam came from the gritty Molenbeek quarter of Brussels known for a number of Islamist activists and it was there that police finally tracked him down after four months on the run.

The authorities and the police in particular have faced sharp criticism as investigations since the November 13 Paris attacks seemed to get nowhwere, sparking charges Belgium was not up to the task of combating modern-day terrorism.

"This spectacular arrest allows Belgium to dust off its pride," editor in chief Beatrice Delvaux wrote in Le Soir daily.

"It has to be said that Belgium's reputation was at rock bottom with Abdeslam on the run, not only a security threat but also a direct challenge to the authorities," Delvaux said.

"Arresting him, that means we are taking back control of the situation, restoring our honour."

Jean Condijts at L'Echo daily was much more downbeat, describing the arrest only as "mission accomplished" and leaving larger problems unresolved.

"This (arrest) unfortunately does not end the sneaky war which dozens of minds full of illusions and frustrations prepare in the anonymity of their grotty little homes. In Molenbeek and elsewhere," Condijts said.

He said Islamist radicalism was like an iceberg of which only a small part is visible and which the authorities must tackle head-on.

"We must pose the legitimate question of the place of religion in society ... we must confront the question of the incompatibility between democratic values and some aspects of Islam," he said.

Only in this way could the conditions be created so there would be no more Abdeslams who would be seen for what they really were -- "common criminals."

For Delvaux, Friday's events were seen as a "black day" in Molenbeek and she urged the government to look beyond the security issues and recognise that there must have been some underlying sympathy for Abdeslam in the community.

"The government cannot wash its hands of this issue," she said.

© 2016 AFP

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