European press responds to 'unprecedented' Brussels events

Newspaper front pages Image copyright BBC Monitoring
Image caption Dutch newspaper NRC's headline (L) says 'Beleaguered Brussels', while Belgian daily De Standaard says one of the suspects is "still on the run"

The counter-terror raids conducted by Belgian law enforcement over the weekend and the lockdown of the capital Brussels have sparked varying responses in the European media.

Papers are much concerned with reflecting what seems to be a rising tide of fear on the continent. Some commentators question the readiness of the authorities to deal with the threat posed by violent extremists.

In an article headlined "Relief and astonishment in Brussels in the wake of [police] operations" the Belgian Le Soir expresses the dramatic impact the "unprecedented" action is having on the country.

"One thing is certain: the lockdown paralyses Brussels and gradually the whole country in a climate of anxiety," it says. "The 'lockdown' of a city for a long period as a precaution against a terrorist threat is unprecedented, not only in Belgium."

The paper also accuses the authorities of creating "horrible confusion" by way of contradictory statements on the situation.

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Image caption In Brussels, universities, schools, shops and the metro system have stayed closed on Monday

Belgian La Libre says Brussels now "lives in fear" since it is "a target", and concludes by asking if this is indeed the aim of the terrorists: "Has 'the work been done' as we feared, restricting our movements, taking away our leisure, and imposing a kind of curfew?"

Belgium's Flemish-language papers also focus on the security measures in Brussels, with Het Nieuwsblad highlighting the disruption to the courts.

The papers are also very interested in foreign reaction to the news, with Het Laatste Nieuws writing that the "Brussels lockdown is front page news worldwide"

Dutch newspaper NRC asks whether Belgium is a "failed state", highlighting "tough" international criticism of its perceived failure to clamp down on violent Islamism. It interviews several Belgian opinion makers, who in general defend their country's measures. The article is widely reported in the Flemish press.

Belgian VTM Nieuws TV commentator Faroek Ozgunes says the big question is what fugitive Salah Abdeslam plans next: "Is he going to finish the job, or does he fear that he is being hunted by Islamic State?" after he apparently failed to blow himself up in Paris.

Playing into terrorists' hands?

Andre Tauber in German conservative paper Die Welt, writes that "fear of terror will be the city's constant companion in the coming days".

"There is little evidence that the major night-time police deployment will restore the confidence of the people of Brussels that they are safe once again," he writes.

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Image caption French newspaper L'Humanite's headline says different capitals are fighting the 'Same battle'

The French left-leading L'Humanite fears that the rising security or counter-terrorism measures might lead to escalating violence from both sides of the political spectrum, saying: "By sowing death beyond the lands where it rages, [Islamic State's] objective is to numb people, divide them in order to provoke chaos, push towards [the application of] brutal measures which could bring them followers, promote the rise of tough regimes."

Several media outlets openly question law enforcement agencies' readiness to handle major terrorist threats.

Political correspondent Peter Carstens in the centre-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, is not convinced that Germany's police are equipped to deal with such a co-ordinated onslaught.

A couple of dozen special task forces aside, he fears the police suffer from "drastic staffing and equipment deficiencies" in terms of ammunition and armoured vehicles for "an extended fire-fight", and a lack of adequate body armour leaves them "relatively easy targets for battle-hardened Islamic State terrorists".

Sueddeutsche Zeitung's home affairs editor Heribert Prantl looks at the legal context. He writes that society must decide how far civil liberties must yield in providing a "robust defence against terrorism, before any shocking attack takes place".

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