ISIS Tradecraft and Expanding Ability

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Brussels Bombings Reflect ISIS’ Growing ‘Attack Capability’

‘When you are dealing with terrorists, absolutely the best defense is a strong offense,’ says Michael Morell, a former Deputy Director of the CIA

Reuters/Christian Hartmann)

AtlanticCounci/NATO: The bombings in Brussels on March 22 are a reflection of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’s growing “attack capability” in Europe, according to Michael Morell, a former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency who serves on the Atlantic Council’s board of directors.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks that left dozens dead in Brussels on March 22.

“The big picture here to me is that ISIS has put together an attack capability in Europe that is enlarging by degree and very sophisticated,” said Morell. “What happened today is at its most base level a reflection of that capability and reflection of the fact that that capability has not been degraded.”  

Attack on Brussels

A US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria with a mission set by US President Barack Obama to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group.

The challenge facing the United States and Europe is to gather enough information to thwart such attacks in the future, said Morell.

“If you are not inside these cells, if you don’t have the intelligence, if you don’t get to see their communications you don’t get to see the attack coming,” he said.

Michael Morell spoke in an interview with the New Atlanticist’sAshish Kumar Sen. Here are excerpts from our interview.

Q: French President François Hollande said that through the Brussels attack all of Europe has been hit. What are the implications of this attack for Europe?

Morell: The big picture here to me is that ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham] has put together an attack capability in Europe that is enlarging by degree and very sophisticated. What happened today is at its most base level a reflection of that capability and reflection of the fact that that capability has not been degraded.

There are two implications. The first is that the Europeans have to do a much better job of defending themselves. What we saw today in the airport, for example, was an attack on the left side of security. They didn’t go through airport security, they conducted their attacks in the ticket area where people don’t have to go through security. The Europeans are going to have to adjust their security protocols to reflect what these guys are doing, which is attacking soft targets. They have to completely rethink their defensive posture here. With regard to that, they have to resource their police, intelligence, and security services to reflect the threat that they are facing.

The fact that different European security services are not able to track all the [suspects] that they know about because they simply don’t have the resources is a real problem. This has got to be addressed.

But the most important point I’d make regarding implication is that when you are dealing with terrorists, absolutely the best defense is a strong offense. You have got to take the fight to them. The only way attacks in Europe end—and by the way, these attacks are going to come [to the United States] at some point, no doubt about it—is to remove their leadership from the battlefield and take away their safe haven and their caliphate. There has got to be a serious rethinking in Europe, in Washington, and in the Middle East about how do we deal with the bigger problem here. [ISIS] is under pressure in Iraq and Syria, no doubt about it, but they still have their safe haven and their leadership is still protected.

Q: Do you think Belgium let down its guard after the Paris suspect was arrested last week?

Morell: I don’t think so. In fact, I think their guard was up. There is no doubt in my mind that the timing of this attack reflected that arrest. I think what happened here is that the cell in Brussels that Salah Abdeslam was working had attacks planned and this was one of them. When he was arrested on Friday the guys who were left decided to accelerate the attacks because they were concerned that he would talk to law enforcement authorities and that their attack would get disrupted. I truly think that, when they made the arrest on Friday, they knew of the security risks going forward and they actually raised their security level. But if you are not inside these cells, if you don’t have the intelligence, if you don’t get to see their communications you don’t get to see the attack coming. That’s why this is so dangerous and complicated.

Q: In light of the terrorist attacks in Europe—Paris and now Brussels—in what areas could security cooperation and intelligence sharing between the United States and Europe be expanded?

Morell: After Paris there were all sorts of comments by senior government officials that we should enhance information sharing. When I was Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, we shared everything we had with the relevant European authorities, and they shared what they had with us. So there is very good sharing. Information sharing is not the problem, getting enough information is the problem.

To disrupt individual attacks, you need very specific intelligence and that intelligence has got to come from discussions that you pick up in Iraq and Syria, or discussions that you pick up from the cell itself. You have to attack both of those from an intelligence and security perspective, and you have to do both at the same time so you can get the intelligence you need to disrupt the attacks. It is very difficult work. It takes resources and it takes time. There are a lot of things happening on the technology front that make it more difficult for us to disrupt these things. When these guys use apps with commercial encryption that no one can read they can stay under the radar screen.

Q: What lessons can Europe learn from the United States’ experience in preventing terrorist attacks on US soil?

Morell: You have got to take the fight to them. In an American football context, you can’t play prevent defense. You have to take the fight to Iraq and Syria. You have to take away their ability to operate security, you have got to take away their sense of invincibility, the sense that they are winning, their sense that time is on their side. The only way to do that is to take the fight to them. We are doing to that some extent, but clearly we are not doing enough.

Q: Why has Belgium become a hot bed for Islamic terrorism?

Morell: It is not just Belgium, it is also France, it is also, to some extent, London. It is anywhere that you have got a very large Muslim population and there are recent immigrants from Muslim countries who flop down in these largely Muslim neighborhoods and the countries do a horrible job of bringing them into their society. The kids don’t get the best education. They feel isolated. They are probably bullied in the schools they go to. They turn to look for a sense of community and a sense of belonging and look for something bigger and they find it in the ISIS and al Qaeda narrative. That’s why we see this in Paris and Brussels where there are a lot of these neighborhoods.

Everybody is focused on this particular event [the Brussels attacks] and how you stop these guys. We are not having enough of a conversation at all about how do you stop people from becoming terrorists in the first place? How do we deal with the social, economic, and religious issues that give rise to all this stuff in the first place? Our lack of attention to that is not surprising given that we tend to be focused on people who are trying to kill us now. But we are not really going to get our arms around this problem until we as the international community—the United States, Europe and every Muslim country in the world—gets together and figures out how do we deal with the bigger problem here? How do we stop the creation of these terrorists in the first place? I am not optimistic that we are going to do that, and that’s why I say to people that my kids’ generation and my grandkids’ generation are still going to be fighting this fight.

**** Meanwhile, enter the U.S. State Department:

Europe Travel Alert
The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to potential risks of travel to and throughout Europe following several terrorist attacks, including the March 22 attacks in Brussels claimed by ISIL.  Terrorist groups continue to plan near-term attacks throughout Europe, targeting sporting events, tourist sites, restaurants, and transportation.  This Travel Alert expires on June 20, 2016.

U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using mass transportation. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid crowded places. Exercise particular caution during religious holidays and at large festivals or events.

U.S. citizens should also:

Follow the instructions of local authorities, especially in an emergency.
Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.
Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
European governments continue to guard against terrorist attacks and conduct raids to disrupt plots. We work closely with our allies and will continue to share information with our European partners that will help identify and counter terrorist threats.

ISIS Terror Attacks on the West

ISIS in America

The report, ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa consists of two parts. The first examines all cases of U.S. persons arrested, indicted, or convicted in the United States for ISIS-related activities. A wide array of legal documents related to these cases provides empirical evidence for identifying several demographic factors related to the arrested individuals. This section also looks at the cases of other Americans who, while not in the legal system, are known to have engaged in ISIS-inspired behavior.

The second part of the report examines various aspects of the ISIS-related mobilization in America. Here the report analyzes the individual motivations of ISIS supporters; the role of the Internet and, in particular, social media, in their radicalization and recruitment processes; whether their radicalization took place in isolation or with other, like-minded individuals; and the degree of their tangible links to ISIS.  It concludes with recommendations to combat ISIS recruitment.

Full Report 

Brussels Is Latest Target in Islamic State’s Assault on West

NYT: The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the explosions in Brussels on Tuesday that killed dozens of people at the main airport and a subway station. “We are promising the Crusader nations which have aligned themselves against the Islamic State that dark days are coming,” the militants said in their announcement.

The Brussels explosions are the latest attacks to demonstrate a significant leap in the Islamic State’s ability to coordinate operations against the West. In October, the Islamic State downed a Russian passenger jet, killing all 224 people on board. Two weeks later, an assault across Paris killed more than 100 people.

The Islamic State has also inspired people to carry out attacks. In December, a woman in San Bernardino, Calif., posted her “bayat,” or oath of allegiance, to the Islamic State on a Facebook page moments before she and her husband opened fire in a conference room, killing 14 people.

The couple did not appear to have been directed by the Islamic State, but seemed to have been inspired by the group’s instructions for supporters to attack Western targets.

Whether inspired or coordinated, these attacks have drawn attention to the growing number of civilian deaths caused by the group outside of Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State has a history of attacking mosques, hotels, busy city streets and other civilian targets in mostly non-Western countries. The civilian death toll outside Iraq and Syria has risen to more than 1,000 since January 2015.

Major events: Attacks directed by/linked to ISIS Attacks inspired by ISIS

The Islamic State has been expanding beyond its base in Iraq and Syria since it declared a caliphate, or Islamic state, in June 2014. The group is focused on three parallel tracks, according to Harleen Gambhir, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War:

* inciting regional conflict with attacks in Iraq and Syria;

* building relationships with jihadist groups that can carry out military operations across the Middle East and North Africa;

* and inspiring, and sometimes helping, ISIS sympathizers to conduct attacks in the West.

ISIS Declares Provinces Across the Region

Countries where ISIS has declared provinces

“The goal,” Ms. Gambhir said, “is that through these regional affiliates and through efforts to create chaos in the wider world, the organization will be able to expand, and perhaps incite a global apocalyptic war.”

Major ISIS Attacks

Attacks directed by/linked to ISIS Attacks inspired by ISIS
AustraliaAlgeriaCanadaUnited StatesSaudi ArabiaFranceTurkeyLibyaBosnia and HerzegovinaLebanonEgyptDenmarkTunisiaYemenAfghanistanKuwaitGermanyBangladeshIndonesiaBelgiumOct.Jan.AprilJulyOct.Jan.20152016

Descriptions of the Major Attacks

Date Location Details
Mar. 22, 2016
Belgium A series of deadly terrorist attacks struck Brussels, with two explosions at the city’s main international airport and a third in a subway station at the heart of the city, near the headquarters complex of the European Union. More »
Mar. 19, 2016
Turkey A suicide bombing on Istanbul’s busiest thoroughfare killed three Israeli citizens and an Iranian. Two of the Israelis held dual Israeli-American citizenship. More »
Mar. 4, 2016
Yemen Gunmen killed 18 people at a nursing home founded by Mother Teresa and run by Christian nuns. More »
Jan. 29, 2016
Yemen A bomb-packed car driven by a suicide attacker exploded at a checkpoint near the presidential palace in the southern city of Aden, killing at least eight people. More »
Jan. 14, 2016
Indonesia ISIS claimed responsibility for explosions and gunfire that rocked central Jakarta, killing at least two civilians. More »
Jan. 12, 2016
Turkey A Syrian suicide bomber set off an explosion in the historic central districtof Istanbul, killing 10 people and wounding at least 15 others, in an attack the Turkish government attributed to ISIS. More »
Jan. 11, 2016
France A teenager attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete in Marseille, and afterward told the police that he had carried out the attack in the name of God and the Islamic State.
Jan. 8, 2016
Egypt Gunmen reportedly carrying an ISIS flag opened fire at a Red Sea resort, injuring at least two tourists. More »
Jan. 7, 2016
Egypt ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel in Cairo near the Giza Pyramids. No one was hurt. More »
Jan. 7, 2016
Pennsylvania A man shot and wounded a Philadelphia police officer sitting in a patrol car in the name of Islam and the Islamic State, police said. More »
Jan. 4, 2016
Libya Islamic State militants attempted to capture an oil port along Libya’s coast, in fighting that left at least seven people dead.
Dec. 7, 2015
Yemen The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed a provincial governor and eight of his body guards. More »
Dec. 2, 2015
California A married couple shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. The FBI is investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism inspired by ISIS. More »
Nov. 26, 2015
Bangladesh ISIS claimed responsiblity for an attack on a Shiite mosque during evening prayer in which gunmen opened fire on worshipers with machine guns, killing one man and injuring three others. More »
Nov. 24, 2015
Egypt ISIS militants attacked a hotel in the northern Sinai Peninsula, killing at least seven people.
Nov. 18, 2015
France A teacher at a Jewish school in Marseille was stabbed by three people who appeared to profess support for ISIS. More »
Nov. 13, 2015
France President François Hollande blamed the Islamic State for terrorist attacks across Paris that killed more than 100 people. The Islamic State claimed responsiblity. More »
Nov. 12, 2015
Lebanon ISIS claimed responsiblity for a double suicide bombing that ripped through a busy shopping district at rush hour, killing at least 43 people. More »
Nov. 4, 2015
Egypt ISIS’s Sinai affiliate claimed responsiblity for a suicide bombing that killed at least four police officers. More »
Nov. 4, 2015
Bangladesh ISIS claimed responsibility for a stabbing and shooting that left one police officer dead and another wounded. More »
Oct. 31, 2015
Egypt An ISIS affiliate in Sinai claimed responsiblity for the downing of a Russian passenger jet that killed all 224 people on board. More »
Oct. 30
Turkey ISIS militants killed two Syrian anti-ISIS activists.
Oct. 24, 2015
Bangladesh ISIS claimed responsiblity for bombings that killed one person and wounded dozens more during a procession commemorating a Shiite Muslim holiday. More »
Oct. 10, 2015
Turkey Two explosions killed more than 100 people who had gathered for a peace rally in Turkey’s capital. Turkish officials believe ISIS is responsible. More »
Oct. 6, 2015
Yemen A series of bombings in Yemen’s two largest cities killed at least 25 people. More »
Oct. 3, 2015
Bangladesh ISIS claimed responsibilty for the shooting death of a Japanese man riding a rickshaw. More »
Sep. 28, 2015
Bangladesh ISIS claimed responsiblity for the shooting death of an Italian aid worker. More »
Sep. 24, 2015
Yemen At least 25 people were killed when two bombs went off outside a mosque during prayers to commemorate Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim holiday. More »
Sep. 18, 2015
Libya Militants loyal to the Islamic State attacked a prison inside a Tripoli air base. More »
Sep. 17, 2015
Germany An Iraqi man was shot dead after he stabbed a policewoman in Berlin.
Sep. 2, 2015
Yemen Yemen’s ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for two bombings at a mosque that killed at least 20 people. More »
Aug. 26, 2015
Egypt The Sinai Province of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for three gunmen who shot and killed two police officers.
Aug. 21, 2015
France A gunman opened fire aboard a packed high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris, wounding several passengers before he was tackled and subdued by three Americans.
Aug. 20, 2015
Egypt An ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for bombing a branch of the Egyptian security agency. More »
Aug. 12, 2015
Egypt An ISIS affiliate said it had beheaded a Croatian expatriate worker because of Croatia’s “participation in the war against the Islamic State.” More »
Aug. 7, 2015
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a mosque that killed at least 15 people, including 12 members of a Saudi police force. More »
Jul. 20, 2015
Turkey A Turkish citizen believed to have had ties to ISIS killed at least 32 people at a cultural center. More »
Jul. 16, 2015
Egypt In what appeared to be the first attack on a naval vessel claimed by Sinai Province, the ISIS affiliate said it destroyed an Egyptian naval vessel and posted photographs on social media of a missile exploding in a ball of fire as it slammed into the vessel. More »
Jul. 11, 2015
Egypt ISIS claimed responsibility for an explosion outside the Italian Consulate’s compound in downtown Cairo that killed one person. More »
Jul. 1, 2015
Egypt Militants affiliated with the Islamic State killed dozens of soldiers in simultaneous attacks on Egyptian Army checkpoints and other security installations in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula. More »
Jun. 26, 2015
Tunisia At least one gunman disguised as a vacationer attacked a Mediterranean resort, killing at least 38 people at a beachfront hotel — most of them British tourists — before he was shot to death by the security forces. More »
Jun. 26, 2015
Kuwait A suicide bomber detonated explosives at one of the largest Shiite mosques in Kuwait City during Friday Prayer. More »
Jun. 17, 2015
Yemen An ISIS branch claimed responsibilty for a series of car bombings in Sana, the capital, that killed at least 30 people. More »
Jun. 9, 2015
Egypt ISIS’s Sinai province claimed responsibility for firing rockets toward an air base used by an international peacekeeping force.
Jun. 5, 2015
Turkey An explosion at a political rally in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir killed two people and wounded more than 100. Turkish officials have said ISIS was behind the attack. More »
Jun. 5, 2015
Turkey Two bombs killed three people at a rally for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or H.D.P.
Jun. 3, 2015
Afghanistan ISIS is suspected of beheading 10 members of the Taliban. More »
May. 31, 2015
Libya A suicide bomber from an ISIS affiliate killed at least four Libyan fighters at a checkpoint. More »
May. 29, 2015
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia One week after a similar attack in the same region, a suicide bomber dressed in women’s clothing detonated an explosive belt near the entrance to a Shiite mosque, killing three people. More »
May. 22, 2015
Yemen ISIS claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a Shiite mosque that injured at least 13 worshipers.
May. 22, 2015
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia In what appeared to be ISIS’s first official claim of an attack in Saudi Arabia, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive at a Shiite mosque during midday prayer, killing at least 21 and injuring 120. More »
May 18
Turkey A bomb detonated at the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or H.D.P.
May. 18, 2015
Turkey Militants detonated a bomb at office of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or H.D.P.
May. 3, 2015
Texas Two men who reportedly supported ISIS and were later acknowledged by ISIS as “soldiers of the caliphate” opened fire in a Dallas suburb outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest. More »
Apr. 30, 2015
Yemen One of ISIS’s Yemen affiliates released a video showing the killing of 15 Yemeni soldiers.
Apr. 27, 2015
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina A gunman attacked a police station.
Apr. 19, 2015
Libya ISIS released a video of militants from two of its Libya affiliates killing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.
Apr. 12, 2015
Libya ISIS’s Tripoli affiliate claimed credit for a bomb that exploded outside the Moroccan Embassy.
Apr. 12, 2015
Egypt ISIS militants killed at least 12 people in three separate attacks on Egyptian security forces. More »
Apr. 12, 2015
Libya ISIS’s Tripoli affiliate claimed responsibility for an attack on the South Korean Embassy that killed two local police officers. More »
Apr. 8, 2015
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia Gunmen opened fire on a police patrol, killing two officers.
Apr. 5, 2015
Libya ISIS killed at least four people in an attack on a security checkpoint.
Apr. 4, 2015
Afghanistan The Afghan vice president accused ISIS of kidnapping 31 civilians in February.
Apr. 2, 2015
Egypt Sinai’s ISIS affiliate killed 13 people with simultaneous car bombs at military checkpoints. More »
Apr. 1, 2015
Turkey Militants killed a Syrian teacher in Turkey.
Mar. 20, 2015
Yemen An ISIS affiliate claimed responsibility for coordinated suicide strikes on Zaydi Shiite mosques that killed more than 130 people during Friday Prayer. More »
Mar. 18, 2015
Tunisia ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a museum that killed 22 people, almost all European tourists. More »
Feb. 20, 2015
Libya ISIS’s Derna affiliate claimed responsibility for three car bombs that killed at least 40 people. More »
Feb. 15, 2015
Libya ISIS released a video that appeared to show its militants in Libya beheading a group of Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped in January. More »
Feb. 15, 2015
Denmark A Danish-born gunman who was inspired by ISIS went on a violent rampage in Copenhagen, killing two strangers and wounding five police officers. More »
Feb. 3, 2015
Libya ISIS militants were suspected of killing 12 people, including four foreigners, in an attack on an oil field. More »
Jan. 29, 2015
Egypt ISIS’s Sinai affiliate claimed responsibility for coordinated bombings that killed 24 soldiers, six police officers and 14 civilians. More »
Jan. 27, 2015
Libya ISIS’s Tripoli affiliate claimed credit for an armed assault on a luxury hotel that killed at least eight people. It was the deadliest attack on Western interests in Libya since the assault on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi. More »
Jan. 23, 2015
Lebanon ISIS attacked an outpost of the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Jan. 16, 2015
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina An attacker killed an imam at a mosque.
Jan. 12, 2015
Libya ISIS’s Tripoli affiliate said they were holding 21 Egyptian Christians captive. More »
Jan. 11, 2015
France A video surfaced of Amedy Coulibaly, one of three gunmen who attacked the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, declaring allegiance to ISIS. More »
Jan. 6, 2015
Turkey Suicide bomber injured two people at a police station.
Dec. 22, 2014
France A van plowed into an outdoor Christmas market in Nantes. More »
Dec. 21, 2014
France A French citizen of Algerian and Moroccan descent drove into pedestrians in Dijon, wounding 13 people. More »
Dec. 15, 2014
Australia A gunman who said he was acting on ISIS’s behalf seized 17 hostages in a Sydney cafe. More »
Nov. 22, 2014
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia A Danish executive was shot in his car. A group of ISIS supporters later claimed responsibility.
Oct. 23, 2014
New York
New York A hatchet-wielding man charged at four police officers in Queens. ISIS said the attack was the “direct result” of its September call to action. More »
Oct. 22, 2014
Canada An Islamic convert shot and killed a soldier who was guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa, stormed Canada’s parliament and fired multiple times before being shot and killed. More »
Oct. 20, 2014
Canada A 25-year-old man who had recently adopted radical Islam ran over two soldiers near Montreal, killing one. More »
Sep. 24, 2014
Algeria Militants kidnapped and beheaded a French tourist shortly after the Islamic State called on supporters around the world to harm Europeans in retaliation for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. More »
Sep. 23, 2014
Australia An 18-year-old ISIS sympathizer was shot dead after stabbing two counterterrorism officers outside a Melbourne police station. More »

Paris/Brussels: Terrorists Names Emerge

suspects Brussels

In its al-Naba newspaper, reported on the attacks: “The Islamic State Shakes Crusader Europe Again”

Third bomb ‘failed to explode’

A regional governor has said that the third bomb found in the airport, which has now been destroyed, malfunctioned.

“Three bombs were brought into the building, of which one failed to explode,” Lodewijk De Witte, the governor of Flemish Brabant province, told a press conference at the airport, adding that it was later destroyed in a controlled explosion.


Belgium police are seeking the public’s help in finding Najim Laachraoui, a Syrian-trained fighter they say assisted alleged Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam. Belgium is also tracking a person designated as a key suspect in the Brussels airport attack. These two included in the manhunt may be one in the same and a name of interest is Soufiane Kayal. There’s a new suspect: Najim Laachraoui — who may have been group’s bomb-maker. His DNA was found on the explosives used in the gun and suicide attacks in Paris. His whereabouts are unknown, and prosecutors admitted they aren’t close to solving the puzzle. Yet another named suspect is believed to be known as Amine Choukri,  who spent time in Syria.

Choukri also reportedly used a forged Syrian passport under the assumed name of Monir Ahmed Alaaj, in order to travel across Europe to reach Belgium.


House to house searches are going on now in Brussels.

In part from Time: Molenbeek’s first deputy mayor Ahmed al-Khannouss told TIME local officials had the names of 85 residents who they believe have fought with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq since 2012, and returned to Europe. “We need to figure out who is dangerous and who is not,” al-Khannouss said. On Monday Belgian officials named two accomplices of Abdeslam who were still on the run, plus a third who was killed in a shootout with police last Tuesday, in a separate part of Brussels.

In recent interviews with TIME, some intelligence experts said they feared that Europe could face further coordinated attacks like Paris, which killed 130 people and for which ISIS claimed responsibility. “What we expect is a multicity, multitarget attack at the same moment, and it will have terrible consequences,” Claude Moniquet, a retired agent for France’s external intelligence service DGSE, who now runs a private intelligence company in Brussels, told TIME in a recent interview.

Officials have centered their scrutiny on those who have been battle-trained abroad, and who might be under instructions to return to Europe to fight at home; several of the Paris attackers had returned from ISIS training in Syria, and had hatched the Paris plot from a rear base in Molenbeek.

But in recent days, E.U. leaders have warned that the number of people who could potentially wage terror appears larger than they previously estimated.

While police celebrated Abdeslam’s capture last Friday, their relief was tempered by the fact that a web of supporters and accomplices had apparently helped hide him for months—a group that still remains at large. “This is not over,” French President François Hollande told a press conference in Brussels on Friday night, adding that there the “wide, extensive” network of jihadists was bigger than French and Belgian investigators had believed in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks more than four months ago.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told a public panel discussion in Brussels on Monday that police had uncovered “many weapons, heavy weapons” during police raids last week that culminated in Abdeslam’s arrest. He said at least 30 jihadists remained at large in the city, and that Abdeslam had told interrogators in custody that he had been “ready to resume something in Brussels,” after apparently backing out at the last minute from his plan to blow himself up during the Paris attacks.

But despite Belgium’s maximum terror-alert level, tracking down the remnants of the jihadist network will not be easy—in part because the outlines of the network are becoming more and more blurred. Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January, 2015, intelligence experts have warned that jihadists have tapped into Mafia-type organized crime, with highly sophisticated smuggling operations, for logistics support like transporting people, issuing fake identity papers or selling weapons. “Where there is money to be made, there is always a business opportunity for organized crime,” says Yan St-Pierre, CEO and counter-intelligence advisor for the Modern Security Consulting Group, a private intelligence company in Berlin. “If they sell weapons to terrorists or someone else, it makes no difference, and often they are in the position to have access to smuggling,” he told TIME on Tuesday.

The mingling of two entirely separate worlds—organized crime and violent Islamic extremism—has hugely complicated the task of tracking down suspects. “This makes the situation extremely difficult for intelligence, because it is two different networks with two different logics,” Moniquet said by phone on Saturday. “And there is a clannish mentality, where if a friend comes and says ‘help me,’ you will do it without question.”

The deep budget cuts during Europe’s economic recession this decade presents another major challenge in dismantling terror networks, according to St-Pierre. He says E.U. governments are increasingly relying on high-tech surveillance methods, which are less costly than hiring people who can monitor every possible terror suspect. “Because of the cuts over the last five or six years, there are less and less people involved” in surveilling terror suspects, St-Pierre says. “They have to play catch-up, so it creates massive problems. The terrorists have adapted.”


The Brussels bombers are thought to have used an explosive nicknamed “Mother of Satan” that was also used in the July 7 at tacks in London in 2005.

Acetone peroxide can be made from household items like hair bleach and nail polish remover, and has been used in numerous previous terrorist bombs and suicide attacks. 

Terrorists particularly like it because it does not contain nitrogen, and therefore can pass through security screening devices that rely on a nitrogenous presence to detect explosives. 

The deadly substance – which forms highly unstable crystals – was also used in the suicide vests worn by the men involved in the Paris terror attacks in November. 

One of the men who allegedly made the vests – named by Belgian police last week as Najim Laachraoui – is still on the run, and is regarded as a likely suspect in the Brussels bombings.