The mayor of a Belgian community that has become ground zero for anti-terrorism raids in recent days has admitted to receiving information that could have potentially thwarted a deadly string of attacks in Paris two weeks ago.
Françoise Schepmans, the mayor of the Brussels district Molenbeek, told the New York Times on Thursday that her office received a list containing the names and addresses of dozens of people living in her area that were suspected of extremist activities.
CBS News reported that list included the names of Salah and Ibrahim Abdeslam, two brothers who are accused of carrying out the attacks in the French capital on Nov. 13. Brahim Abdeslam was killed in the attack; his brother Salah is the focus of an intense manhunt and his whereabouts are currently unknown to authorities.
Also on the list: Abdelhami Abaaoud, the suspected planner of the attack that killed 130 people in Paris. Abaaoud was one of three people killed in a raid on an apartment in a Paris suburb last week.
“What was I supposed to do about them?” a defiant Schepmans told the Times. “It is not my job to track possible terrorists…(that) is the responsibility of the federal police.”
The job of tracking suspected extremists and terrorists falls on the federal police service of Belgium, an agency that reports to the country’s interior minister, the Times said. The failures of tracking those responsible for the attack in Paris compounds intense criticism over the last year and a half over Belgium, a country that the Times noted did not have a functioning government over a two-year period following hotly-contested elections in 2010.
That, some in the country say, helped create a breeding ground for Islamic militants and other extremists bent on carrying out attacks throughout Europe. Raids carried out in Molenbeek in the two weeks since the attacks have been more intense and more secretive than those across the border in France. Following the attack, Belgian police have arrested dozens of men and women suspected of extremist ties — more than anywhere else in the continent.
But many of those arrested are invariably released — of 16 people recently arrested in a raid, 15 were promptly let go — raising questions about Belgium’s ability to effectively track and deter terrorism, and whether the country’s prior ineffectiveness had put neighboring countries and allies at risk.