On March 22nd 2021, the news site Nieuws365 published an official statement of the right-wing populist political party Vlaams Belang. According to their chairman of the department of Brussels and senator Bob de Brabandere, 398 prisoners who were classified as radicalised were released in the past five years, which he claims is problematic.This statement turns out to be uncheckable.
In remembrance of the terrorist attacks at Metro Maelbeek and Brussels Airport in 2016, Bob De Brabandere claims politicians haven’t taken any measures to prevent future attacks. ‘In 5 out of 8 attacks that happened last year in Europe, the perpetrators were known for radicalism, and 4 of them had been sentenced in previous years for terrorism or violence. Instead of keeping terrorists behind bars, 398 radicalised prisoners were released, the senator states.
Moreover, the political party claims The Intelligence Service VSSE admitted in their annual report of 2019 that 45% of the released extremists were still considered radicalized or capable of other violence in 2020.
Attacks in Europe
In 2020, out of several terrorist attacks in France, Germany and the UK, five were committed by criminals known to authorities, just like the number of perpetrators who had been sentenced before.
The numbers were obtained through a parliamentary question the Senate leader of Vlaams Belang, Guy D’haeseleer, asked the minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD – the Flemish conservative liberal party) last year. The answer to how many convicted terrorists were released was 398 individuals who were at one point listed on the Celex list.
The list contains five categories of the common database:
● 103 ‘Foreign Terrorist Fighters’, who left to join a terrorist group in a conflict area, were prevented from leaving or had the intention to leave Belgium.
● 10 ‘Homegrown Terrorists’, who do not intend to leave the country, join terrorist attacks in Belgium or provide support.
● 18 ‘Hate Propagandists’, those who try to justify violence for ideological purposes, using their influence to radicalize their environment and damage the constitution.
● 3 ‘Potential Violent Extremists’ have extremist ideas that they eventually want to achieve using violence but do not undertake any concrete actions.
● 2 ‘TV’. The fifth category covers those convicted, interned or placed under protection measures for terrorism in Belgium or abroad.
Prisoners can be listed under several categories, so the main categories of the common database are split up into subcategories.
In addition, the DG EPI (the Directorate-General for penitentiary facilities) uses other categories besides the common database to keep track of any forms of extremism. Such as ‘Gelijkgestelden’ (Equivalents), who are connected to terrorist crimes. ‘Geradicaliseerd’ or radicalized refers to prisoners who weren’t convicted for any radical or extremist behaviour but developed radical ideas during their imprisonment. The 122 ‘Terrorists’ are not only convicted for terrorism offences, but some are also under arrest and not yet convicted for the same type of crime.
We contacted the spokesperson of the Directorate-General for penitentiary facilities (DG EPI) to get further information. When it comes to analysing the numbers, recent changes have been made. ‘From now on, we only use the OCAD (Coordination Unit for Threat Assessment) common database to keep track of any forms of radicalism, terrorism or extremism. Old categories such as ‘Gelijkgestelden (Equivalents)’ and ‘Radicalists’ have been replaced, making it difficult to analyse and compare old numbers to new ones, the DG EPI concludes.
According to the DG EPI, for those convicted and served their sentence, there aren’t any conditions they have to consider. The government will keep track of them if they are released under certain conditions. The detainees monitored for radicalism/terrorism during their detention are, for the most part, still followed by the security services (police, state security) outside the framework of the Local Task Forces.
In their annual report of 2019, The Intelligence Service states they are keeping track of the released prisoners detained for terrorist activities. However, no definite numbers were mentioned since it is difficult for the authorities to measure if prisoners still have the same intentions on the day of their release. Their goal is to inform partners and local forces in time. The Intelligence Service also mentions that most attacks are perpetrated by far-right extremist individuals, who are rarely known to authorities.
With the statement that “hundreds of radicalized prisoners can walk around freely”, senator Bob de Brabandere expresses his concerns. However, the annual report of the intelligence services does not confirm his narrative. The changes of the DG EPI make the statement difficult to confirm or deny. Therefore the statement is uncheckable.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Marie-Julie Van de Sijpe, Thomas More University of Applied Sciences
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