Belgium Interior Minister Jan Jambon has faced criticism from his parliamentary colleagues this week after telling the Flemish-language De Standaard newspaper that many Muslims had danced in celebration after the recent terror attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people.
"A significant part of the Muslim community danced following the attacks," Jambon, a senior member of the Flemish nationalist party the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), said in an interview published Saturday. "They threw stones and bottles at police and press during the arrest of [terrorism suspect] Salah Abdeslam." The minister then added that the terrorists police are able to capture are simply a "pimple," and that "underneath there is a much more difficult cancer to treat."
Jambon's comments have sparked a furor in Belgium, with many demanding proof for the allegations that Muslims were dancing. To some, the situation bears a remarkable similarity to recent comments made by American presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who said last year that he saw news footage of "thousands of thousands of people" celebrating in northern New Jersey, "where you have large Arab populations."
As The Washington Post and numerous other outlets have pointed out, there appears to be no evidence that this footage exists. Officials from New Jersey have denied that there were celebrations in the manner Trump describes. It is possible that Trump mistook a video clip of Palestinians celebrating the attacks in the West Bank.
While Trump's statements were given the haze of history due to the fact they took place almost 15 years ago, Jambon's comments relate to far more recent events: The bomb attacks in Belgium's capital took place on March 22, less than a month ago. There has been widespread criticism of Jambon's comments, with Olivier Maingain, leader of the Francophone Democratic Federalist party, telling Le Soir newspaper that the scrutiny of Belgium's Muslim minority was a tactic "typical of the extreme right."
On Wednesday, parliament called Jambon to justify his use of the word "significant." Speaking in his defense, the interior minister said that he had used the word to suggest it was a number meaningful to him rather than an indication of a large portion of Belgium's Muslim population. Jambon also referred to a police report that contained details of dancing but refused to elaborate further.
"There was [dancing], but not much ... several services have confirmed to me that these weren’t rumours and that they saw this on the ground,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse. “What do you think, that I am going to stigmatise them by naming streets and districts?”
Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel backed his interior minister earlier in the week, releasing a statement Monday that said that he could confirm "there have been endorsements for the attacks" -- although adding that they came only from a small minority. "We must neither generalize or gloss over this," Michel said.
It's unclear just how small that minority is. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims live in Belgium. However, the Brussels prosecutor's office told the Wall Street Journal that while six people were arrested after the attacks after allegedly planning an event to show their support for the bombings, they were later released. Police also told the Journal that while there were some bottles and other objects thrown at police during the arrest in Belgium of Salah Abdeslam -- a key suspect in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks -- they appeared to be random incidents during a lengthy siege that shut down several blocks of a residential neighborhood.
Both Michel and Jambon have been criticized for security failures in the run-up to the March attacks in Brussels. The interior minister was reported to have offered his resignation soon afterward, although the offer was not accepted. The N-VA-led coalition government, in power since November 2014, has been accused of failing to deal with the structural problems in the Belgian security services and the problem of radicalization in Muslim-heavy enclaves such as Brussels’s Molenbeek neighborhood.
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