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Belgium Interior Minister Blames Neglect On Security Failures


Belgium might have expected sympathy and understanding after the airport and subway attacks that killed 32 people last week, but while there have been official statements of solidarity, Belgium has also been criticized over perceived failures of its security services. Many of those accusations are leveled at Interior Minister Jan Jambon, who refutes many but not all of them. He talked to Teri Schultz today, and Teri is with us now. Welcome to the show, Teri.


MCEVERS: So how did Jambon respond to all of this criticism that he's been getting?

SCHULTZ: Well, Minister Jambon absolutely rejects the notion that security and police services should've been able to detect and prevent these attacks. He says many countries have failed to do so, including the U.S. on 9/11.

Now, he's in the airport, so you'll hear some background noise as he describes just what his services are up against with these Islamist terrorists.

JAN JAMBON: These are well-trained fighting machines. They know the communication techniques. They know how to use mobile phones and all these communications stuff. And these are really professionals. So sometimes you catch them, and sometimes they catch you.

SCHULTZ: But Belgium is moving fast now to try to do more catching than being caught. It's passing new laws that will allow round-the-clock house searches and expanded wiretapping. Authorities are creating what they call a dynamic database that will gather and, more importantly, share information on these foreign fighters.

MCEVERS: So they are doing more, as you say, but this minister, Jambon, did offer to resign last week. If he truly believes that no one is to blame including himself, why would he have done that?

SCHULTZ: That's right, Kelly. Jambon and the justice minister both offered to quit, but the prime minister asked them to stay on. Now, Jambon says it's not that he doesn't believe there were no mistakes but just that there's only one for which he's willing to take political responsibility. He says not personal but political responsibility.

And that involves Ibrahim Bakraoui. He's one of the two suicide bombers at Brussels airport, and he had been expelled from Turkey with Ankara saying it warned Belgium that he was a possible foreign fighter, a possible terrorist, but Belgium didn't track Bakraoui after that. Here's Minister Jambon.

JAMBON: I just have said that our liaison officer had to know in a very early stage that this Ibrahim el-Bakraoui was dangerous and a foreign fighter because all of the indications were like that.

SCHULTZ: Now, Jambon says he has questions just like so many other people as to why judicial authorities would've let Bakraoui out of prison.

MCEVERS: And I understand the minister's on his way to the U.S. now. What will he be doing here?

SCHULTZ: Well, Minister Jambon is attending President Obama's nuclear security summit. And as if he didn't have enough to worry about, there are also reports that Islamic State terrorists were targeting Belgium's nuclear facilities because it thought they might be a weak link, a way to get nuclear material for a dirty bomb. So they've beefed up security around the nuclear plants. And I asked Minister Jambon how he's going to respond to U.S. officials' concerns about Belgium's ability to deal with all of these terrorist threats.

JAMBON: I can imagine, yes, if I was in their place, I would have the same questions, I think, in our country, where, day and night, security people are working first to catch these terrorists and, from the other side, to guarantee security of our people and our installations.

SCHULTZ: Now, Minister Jambon also told me that contrary to some media reports, Belgian authorities have an excellent working relationship with the FBI but that he didn't ask for any extra U.S. help on these terror investigations.

MCEVERS: That's reporter Teri Schultz who talked today with Belgium's interior minister. Thank you very much.

SCHULTZ: You're welcome, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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