‘Jumpy Europe jumping to conclusion that every violent incident an act of terrorism’

A police vehicle is seen inside the Belgium's National Institute of Criminology domain after arsonists set fire to it in Brussels, Belgium August 29, 2016 © Eric Vidal
Europeans are understandably anxious about the ongoing terrorist threat across the continent, so when something explosive happens, people are quick to conclude that another bomb has gone off, says Annie Machon, former MI5 agent.

A automobile crashed into the Brussels Criminology Institute and caught fire around 2:30 local time this morning, according to Belgian broadcaster RTL. The building was empty at the time and no causalities have been reported.

Experts are attempting to determine whether this was an act of terrorism or a criminal act. One conflicting source reported that no bomb was involved in the incident, but rather the explosion was due to the vehicle’s gasoline igniting, according to VRT media outlet.

RT: Brussels prosecutor's office has said this was probably not an act of terrorism. However, that wasn't before the incident was all over the media and online. Why is there this rush to judge before we know the full facts?

Annie Machon: I think because everyone is so jumpy at the moment about the ongoing terrorist threat across Europe, that as soon as something that could apparently be an explosive happens, then people will jump to those conclusions that another bomb has gone off. However, there has been a passing over the last few months of lower level, lone wolf type attacks across France, Belgium and Germany particularly.

Moving away from the old pattern of larger scale planned operations involving bombs - as we saw in Brussels itself only a few months ago - the low-level attacks are much easier to carry out, easier to plan, and are much more difficult to try and stop as well. In fact, only a couple of weeks ago in Brussels we had one of those attacks where a young woman went mad slashing at people with a machete in the center of the city, at the same time apparently calling out “God is great”. So, people are very worried and concerned. And anything out of ordinary, of course, is going to raise those concerns still more.

“We are now living in a situation of great tension, especially in Western Europe, linked with terrorism. So, it is normal that every time something violent happens, it is linked to terrorism. At the same time, we have also to take into account the fact that criminal acts and terrorist acts are not systematically very different because the links between the terrorist and criminal milieu have been existing for a long time… The border between criminality and terrorism is not very clear.”Professor Bruno Drweski, professor at the National Institute of Language and Eastern Civilizations, told RT.

RT:As we are working to confirm whether or not it was an act of criminality or an active terrorism there, the apparent target was the criminology institute in Brussels at 2:30 in the morning, nobody was in the building. If this was an act of terror, why would they attack the Criminology Institute?

AM: The obvious inference is that they are trying to destroy some sort of evidence. There might be ongoing investigation at the forensic lab, which would imply rather worryingly that they would have inside knowledge of where the evidence they want to destroy is actually kept and stored. So, that might be something that the Belgium authorities are going to have to investigate separately. But it certainly looks as if it was designed to damage and destroy the property, to damage or destroy evidence, rather than to try and risk lives and murder people. So, I think that is the inference that we should be drawing and I am sure that is what the Belgium police will be investigating.   

But I do think as well there is a wider picture. We need to move away from immediately saying everything is terrorism and that terrorism is a specific form of evil that needs a specific response and crackdown on the perpetrators. I’ve been saying for many years now that terrorism is just another form of crime; it is a ghastly crime, mass murder, for example. But we should be investigating and gathering evidence and putting people on trial as we would in any other form of crime rather than try to snatch them, lock them up and throw away the key.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.