Timeline: Belgium’s long and troubled history of jihadism

Small size and fragmented governance make Belgium ideal for arms-smuggling


Yesterday’s attacks at Brussels airport and one of the city’s central metro stations, which has reportedly left at least 26 people dead, are the most deadly episode to date in Belgium’s troubled history of jihadism.

In recent years, counterterrorism officials across the EU have become increasingly nervous about the number of Belgian nationals who have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, as well as the ease with which firearms can be bought in the country.

Some critics highlight what they say is the country’s poor record on integrating Muslim communities – the rundown district of Molenbeek, which has dispatched dozens of foreign fighters to the Middle East, has an unemployment rate of 30 per cent, treble the national average.

The country’s small size and fragmented system of governance make it an ideal spot for arms-smuggling, according to security experts. Whatever the cause, Belgium’s experiences of jihadism go back more than a decade.

September 2001 Members of an international terrorist cell based in Molenbeek assassinate Ahmad Shah Massoud, a powerful anti-Taliban military commander, in Afghanistan two days before the September 11th attacks in the United States. November 2005 Muriel Degauque, a Belgian Muslim convert, blows herself up in Baghdad, killing five. She becomes Europe’s first female suicide bomber.

2010 The Islamist group Sharia4Belgium is set up, initially to promote Islamic law in the country. It eventually recruits dozens of young Muslims to fight for Isis in Syria. On a per capita basis Belgium has more foreign fighters in Syria than any other EU state.

May 2014 An attack on a Jewish museum in Brussels on the eve of federal, regional and European parliamentary elections leaves three people dead and one badly injured.

June 2014 Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year old French citizen who spent time in Syria, is charged with the Brussels museum attack. He is believed to have bought his weapons in Brussels’ Molenbeek district.

January 9th, 2015 Two days after terrorists kill 12 people in an attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Amedy Coulibaly, a French national, kills four hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris. He later fatally shoots a police officer. He is also believed to have bought his weapons in Molenbeek.

January 15th, 2015


November 13th, 2015

Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Seven attackers die, but Salah Abdeslam, one of three brothers involved in the assault, returns to Belgium even though police check his car at the border with France. Abaaoud also remains at large.

November 14th, 2015

Jan Jambon

November 18th, 2015

November 21st, 2015

Charles Michel

December 21st, 2015

January 16th, 2016

March 15th, 2016

March 18th, 2016

March 22nd, 2016

– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016)