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Patrick Le Hyaric : « These attacks were meticulously prepared and co-ordinated ».

Translated Wednesday 30 March 2016, by Philippa Griffin

The European MEP Patrick Le Hyaric (from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left party) had arrived at the European Parliament Brussels on the morning of the attacks at Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station. As a witness, he reveals what he saw, and makes the first steps towards an analysis of the situation which, this time, has struck the European capital with full force.

What did you first feel upon arriving in Brussels this morning ?

Patrick Le Hyaric : I arrived in a city thronging with military personnel, and I learned of the attack at the airport from the news reports on my mobile phone. I had just entered the European Parliament building when the second attack in the metro occurred (at Maelbeek station, which directly serves the European institutions). Amongst the people who work here, I sensed a mixture of anxiety, sadness and terror, because the targets were arrival points for those who work in the European Parliament and Commission. Everyone was afraid that people who worked there - colleagues, friends – had been caught up in the attacks so close at hand and at the Zaventem airport, where passengers arrive from throughout Europe and from elsewhere. For example, we were expecting a delegation of friends from New York who arrived just one hour beforehand, others due to land at the very moment when the attack took place but who were diverted; to where I don’t know. Everything was therefore thrown into chaos, creating a climate of fear because events which can so easily seem strange, so far away, that happen only ‘others’, have suddenly taken place on our doorstep.

Did you think straight away that Europe – such as is represented in Brussels – had been specifically targeted by these attacks?

Patrick Le Hyaric – There are circumstantial links without a doubt. First of all, there was the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, thanks (aptly or ironically, however one cares to see it) to a coordination between services of several European countries. Then, there were the events at Bamako in Mali, that night at the Radisson Hotel. There were personnel from the European institutions at that hotel, and there should also have been another entire group, gathered to discuss European matters. They were clearly the target of that attack. We must not forget, either, current events relating to refugees and to Turkey, and this fairly disgusting agreement with Turkey to stop more refugees from seeking asylum in Europe, which naturally pushes the European institutions into the foreground. And of course, it is evident that employees of these institutions arrive constantly at Zaventem airport and at Maelbeek metro station. The attackers wished to target the European institutions in one way or another. It would seem, according to the information to which we have now been party for several weeks, that there had been attempted break-ins to the European Parliament. In Brussels, many steps have been taken over the past two months to increase security at the Parliament. Every entrance is undergoing additional construction work, general security is greatly reinforced, personnel use alternative entrances, controls and checks are much stricter – so the threats that have been discussed for at least three months have unfortunately proved true.

What precisely do you think was the target of these attacks, and do you think that we are almost inviting these jihadi groups to refocus their attention from the Middle East (where they are of course still present) to Europe?

Patrick Le Hyaric . Yes, these groups have said that Europe was a clear target for them. France was naturally the subject of an attack due to our military operations in territories such as Libya, Mali and, of course, Syria. In our discussions immediately following the 13th November attacks, Bernard Cazeneuve, the Minister of the Interior, informed us that Belgium was acting as the principal European training ground, the hidden, isolated recruitment base for the attacks. François Hollande, Manuel Valls and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Marc Ayrault were also party to these discussions. We were told that extremely serious events were in preparation, events that could take multiple forms. In November we were given many precise indications that we were not authorised to make public for security reasons, but all that was said has turned out to be true. The various attempted attacks in France, the Belgian base for launching the Paris attacks, all this was known..... I think that these attacks were meticulously planned and co-ordinated, and their instigators did not waver in their intentions.

What can be done and said, what can you advise in your role as MEP, once the necessary period of reflection and solidarity has passed?

Patrick Le Hyaric Although I speak only for myself, I think that the first and most important step is to spare a thought for the victims, their families and friends and all those who, today, feel in one way or another threatened and cloaked in insecurity. The first thing, therefore, is to create conditions of safety. Human considerations must take precedence over everything else, over every attempt at political recovery as we must now unfortunately witness. Secondly, there are fundamental things on which agreement is more or less fixed, but I think that co-ordination between European police and prosecutors from not only France and Belgium, but also from Germany, Italy, Greece and Portugal must tighten. I think that we need co-ordination for the sharing of information, security and justice. We need a synchronised system for these terrorists who execute these atrocities, these killers, these criminals who too live in insecurity – it affects them as well as ordinary citizens. We must absolutely make everyday life as safe as possible so that people can exercise their basic freedoms to travel, to work, to go out, to live together.....this must surely be the first thing to do. We cannot place the responsibility for what has happened at the door of refugees, nor can we blame the fact that we did not vote for a deprivation of national citizenship. We can deprive of citizenship as many citizens as we wish, but it is clear that this is not the most important consideration. The chief question that remains is the treatment of this problem. How do we create conditions of political isolation for these criminals? Such an achievement would necessitate a vast political and diplomatic effort, but we must also force them to withdraw from the territories in which they have taken root. We cannot stand by whilst they take further hold in Syria, Libya and Iraq. But the right approach must blend these two imperatives; diplomatic efforts for peace, and a strategy on the ground.

The EU, for example, must take very ambitious steps in North Africa and in all the countries in the Near and Middle East, establishing a programme of co-operation aimed at reconstructing the political, economic and social landscapes of these countries to aid them in the extrication from their current difficulties. The more we address the issues at source, the more we will see emerge a democracy that the citizens themselves choose. It is not for us to choose, and if we impose our choice, we will further alienate this species of abject criminality that hides itself behind the veil of religion. Such criminals are the first to tarnish their religion, and at the same time to tarnish all Muslims who thus feel insecure themselves. It is unpleasant for these Muslims to feel that they are the object of hostility and mistrust.

How should the European Parliament act after these fresh attacks in Brussels ?

Patrick Le Hyaric . I think that when we open the next session in Strasbourg, we must take a moment of public expression amongst the European institutions that sit at the heart of our Parliament. We must take a political initiative, even if, at first, it does not hold legal value. It should be a resolution covering a group of initiatives – humanitarian in the first instance, but which call for a reinforcement of co-operation amongst information services between European police forces and prosecution departments. Then, the fundamental question for me is: what type of political initiative is needed to extricate the citizens of North Africa and the Middle East from the difficulties in which they are immersed? Only when citizens of these nations are able to construct their own democracies will the roots of terrorism wither and finally die.

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