Sunday, December 6, 2015

Belgium beefs up security apparatus in wake of Muslim terror

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Islamic State's attack on Paris has triggered shifts in great power strategy in the Middle East, but just as significant for Europeans may be change afoot inside an office block near Brussels' Gare du Nord station.

The Belgian capital was home to some of the Paris attackers and a logistical planning base for the operation. Dubbed by some "Jihad Central", the city was locked down for days for fear local radicals could strike at home.

Now, stung by international accusations that underfunding and political in-fighting had left its security services the weakest link in Europe's counter-terrorism defenses, Belgium is ploughing resources into an intelligence agency that faces the biggest concentration of Syria-linked militants in the West.

Staffing for the Surete de l'Etat (State Security), of which little is publicly known beyond its address in an anonymous federal government office building near Brussels' northern rail terminus, could rise by a quarter, according to government budget projections reviewed by Reuters.

And for the first time in memory, Belgium has plans to send its spies abroad, the Justice Ministry confirmed in response to a question from Reuters.

Belgian security chiefs have repeatedly complained that they cannot handle up to 900 home-grown Islamist militants, among the highest per capita rates in Europe - and certainly not with existing funds.

However, it took a foiled attack, including a shoot-out in the eastern town of Verviers, in January to reverse a planned budget cut and release 200 million euros ($212 million) of security spending. The Paris attacks led to a further 400 million euro package last month.