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European security has collapsed, perhaps irretrievably. So many prospective terrorists are now operating in Europe that security services have lost the capacity to monitor potential threats. There is no historical yardstick against which to gauge the breakdown of law enforcement in Europe. Most remarkably, the wound is self-inflicted.
Two suicide bombers today shut down Brussels, home to NATO as well as the European Union, killing at least 21 bystanders and severely injured 35 at the city’s airport and the Maelbeek metro station. Air and rail transportation has stopped and mobile telephone networks are saturated. The authorities presume that today’s attacks avenged the capture of Salah Abdeslam, the last man at large from the cell that executed the Paris attacks last Nov. 13.
Several thousand trained terrorists reached Europe among more than a million migrants in 2015–4,000 by one account in the UK media, or 1,500 according to NATO Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove in Congressional testimony March 1. In fact, security services have no possible way to verify the bona fides of migrants. The cost of a Syrian passport and passage to Europe is about US $3,000. ISIS and other terrorist organizations can send as many terrorists as they wish to Europe, and a very small cell can shut down a major city.
That leaves the West with unpleasant choices. America has had few large-scale terrorist incidents since Sept. 11, 2001 because it spends $80 billion a year on intelligence operations, including intensive monitoring of Muslims living in the United States, and because it admits very few immigrants from prospective centers of terrorism. American public opinion overwhelming favors less immigration. One poll shows that a majority of Americans support Donald Trump’s proposal for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration by a margin of 46% to 40% (with 14% undecided). Today’s events are good news for the Trump presidential campaign.
Europe continues to favor mass immigration on humanitarian grounds. Despite the electoral gains of the anti-immigration Allianz für Deutschland earlier this month, more than three-quarters of German voters favored candidates who support Angela Merkel’s immigration policies. The German authorities do not know who the refugees are, and in many cases where they are. According to Germany’s Die Welt, thousands of migrants have left refugee camps; at least 7,000 are missing from reception centers in the state of Brandenburg alone. Very few of these are prospective terrorists, to be sure, but the collapse of controls makes it impossible for security authorities to track prospective terrorists.
This does not necessarily imply that ISIS and other terrorists will conduct a major attack every week. The point is that the frequency of attacks is now a matter of the terrorists’ choice. Mass attacks like the November atrocity in Paris and today’s suicide bombings in Brussels establish ISIS’ credibility. But ISIS does not want to provoke a European reaction; it wants to establish a foothold in Europe so tenable that European authorities will not be able to dislodge it in the future.
Europe has the simple choice of allowing humanitarian disasters to occur on its borders, or losing control of its own security. Germany has already chosen the second alternative, and today’s events will have no effect on Berlin’s attitude towards migrants.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.