Belgian prosecutors have opened more than 20 new probes against people suspected of terrorism-related offenses on average every month since the start of the year, with the total number reaching 189 to date, local media report.
The figure is already nearing the mark for similar cases opened throughout 2014, when the total number was 195. The average number of monthly cases opened also exceeds last year’s figure, which amounted to 22, the Belgian newspapers De Tijd and L’Echo report.
The Belgian media also report that the focus of investigators’ attention has now shifted from extremists who left Belgium to fight alongside terrorist groups in the Middle East, as it was in 2015, to “home-grown radicals” who have never left for Syria or Iraq, as well as towards increasingly younger suspects.
Investigations were also opened into cases in which Belgian citizens became victims of terrorist attacks in other countries, such as Spain, Turkey or Sweden. The Belgian authorities say that the risk of a terrorist attack in the country remains high.
All Belgian law enforcement and security services “from local police to state security service” are now working “primarily on terrorism” and collect as much information on possible terrorist threats as “never before,” the newspapers report.
They add that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office has recently been strengthened through an increase in the number of magistrates from 24 to 32, with 12 of them now working solely on terrorism-related cases.
So far, 289 people have been tried for terrorism-related offenses since January 2015, according to media reports.
Belgium was hit by one of the worst terrorist attacks in Europe in recent years when in March of 2016 suicide bombings at Brussels Airport and the city’s metro killed 32 people and left scores more injured.
It was later revealed that one of the suicide bombers, Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, was known to the authorities for his criminal background, while Turkey had also warned he was a “foreign terrorist fighter.”
Belgium has a substantial migrant population and the largest per capita number of fighters that left to join terrorists in Iraq and Syria, according to a study by the Hague-based International Center for Counter-Terrorism, released in April of 2016.
In one of the latest incidents, explosives, loaded AK-47s, police and other uniforms as well as three handguns, ammunition and two bulletproof vests were found during raids in Brussels in early July. Two men suspected of “participating in activities of a terrorist group” were arrested following the discovery of the arsenal.