Belgian authorities on Wednesday confirmed the identities of three terrorists who perpetrated three coordinated bombings in Brussels the day before as brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui and Najim Laachroui. A fourth bomber remains unidentified. The announcement that made the headlines, however, was made hours later by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. "One of the assailants is someone we caught in June 2015 and deported," he told a group of surprised reporters covering Romanian President Klaus Iohannis's visit. "We informed the Belgian Embassy about his deportation on July 14, 2015, but the Belgians released the aforementioned person. Belgium could not find his terror links despite our warning that he was a foreign terrorist fighter." The individual was later identified as Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the airport bombers.
The much-dreaded moment of truth is here as the European security apparatus has just hit rock bottom. The good news is that the latest scandal might be a blessing in disguise. There is no place to go but up.
In recent years, European governments have repeatedly blamed the flow of foreign fighters into Syria on Turkey. Pointing their fingers to Syria's most powerful neighbor, they were able to get a free pass from voters and the media alike. Meanwhile, Ankara's repeated calls for closer cooperation and intelligence sharing went largely unheeded.
Europe's leaders thought they had found an easy way to make the problem of radicalism go away. By simply turning a blind eye to the mass movement of extremists away from the old continent, they were able to prevent European citizens from asking what exactly the authorities were doing to keep them safe, that is until DAESH struck Paris and it became clear that Turkey had warned French intelligence twice about one of the suicide bombers.
Having buried their heads in the sand until Syrian refugees started flocking to Europe, the old continent's leaders are now coming to terms with their second major mistake. The neighborhood terrorists are coming back as seasoned warriors. To make matters worse, the most recent terror attacks show that European intelligence agencies are not even able to keep track of terrorists that another government told them were dangerous.
Although the explosions in Brussels will inevitably unleash a new wave of criticism against intelligence agencies, our anger should not distract attention from the bigger problems: Countries like Belgium have done absolutely nothing to address the rising tide of Islamophobia, launch initiatives against radicalism or show terrorists they mean business. Belgium, among other European Union countries, continues to harbor members of the PKK and Revolutionary People's Liberation Party Front (DHKP-C), armed groups that the EU recognizes as terrorist organizations. And we are not talking about sympathizers either. Fehriye Erdal, a DHKP-C member who shot dead one of Turkey's leading industrialists in 1996, has been escaping justice thanks to the Belgian government's lenient counterterrorism policies.
There is, however, a way to turn around Europe's slide into chaos.
EU leaders who were unable to address the refugee crisis alone relied on Turkey to devise a comprehensive, long-term strategy. Now they have to work with the Turkish government to identify, catch and hold accountable terrorists regardless of what they think they are fighting for. Having lost loved ones and buried innocent people before their time, Europeans have no better ally than Turkey - a country that has proved time and again that it is willing and able to help bring terrorists to justice.
In addition to beefing up security, EU member states must win back the hearts and minds of disenchanted minority groups. No more can Europe pretend to be a temple of diversity and multiculturalism.
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