Threat of Extreme Right March Stirs Fears in Tense Molenbeek

Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 8:44 PM

With extreme-right groups threatening to get the neighborhood by storm Saturday, community leaders fear its predominantly Muslim youthful people will fight back.

Residence to jihadists connected to the fatal bombings in Paris and Brussels, recruiting ground for Islamic State extremists, and witness to repeated police raids, Molenbeek is bracing for a new onslaught.

With extreme-right groups threatening to obtain the neighborhood by storm Saturday, community leaders fear its predominantly Muslim youthful people will fight back.

"They don't believe the police and they aren't going to get it," said Fouad Ben Abdelkader, a instructor in the neighborhood. On Thursday he joined a meeting of a couple dozen community leaders and mentors to neighborhood youths who perceive adrift in mainstream Belgian society.

The grouping of community organizers was looking for ways to head off an escalation of violence in the largely Muslim neighborhood, hoping to avert a situation love occurred latest Sun when hundreds of black-clad hooligans shouting Nazi slogans disrupted a memorial at Brussels' Bourse square for the thirty-two victims of the March twenty-two attacks on the airport and subway system.

This time, a relatively unknown Belgian grouping has pledged to "expel the Islamists" and police warn that extreme-right activists are believed to be converging on Molenbeek from around Europe, even though police banned the scheduled protest and any counter protests in the city as soon as it was announced, largely in reaction to the unrest last week.

At the meeting Thursday, Molenbeek'south youth organizers planned for the worst, themselves doubtful of a police force they declare is unprepared and unwilling to hear to their concerns.

"There are some messages that are clearly calling for violence against Muslims. And there have been repercussions on social networks among youthful people, families, saying we've to obtain mobilized to defend our tiny brothers, our sisters, our mothers. Seeing that latest weekend the police didn't do their work and didn't succeed in avoiding clashes, that creates mistrust," said Sarah Turine, a Molenbeek councilwoman who called the meeting in hopes of heading off problems.

Exterior the non-descript building where the meeting took place, Molenbeek'south weekly market filled Saint John the Baptist square and the neighborhood'south central walkway — both central gathering places, which concerned residents are contemplating blocking off for the day. Also below consideration is simply insulating Molenbeek, closing off the streets from the exterior and shutting down the neighborhood subway stops, allowing trains to pass through. But it's feared even that'll not be enough.

"People who wish to mix it up with hooligans will seek them out," said Hisham Nasi, a slender man with a jaunty topknot, only marginally older than the kids he's organized into a youth council.

It's been two weeks since the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, Europe'south most wanted fugitive and a Molenbeek native who was found — after four months on the run — back residence where he started. The neighborhood has been a middle for jihadi recruiters for years, and those who met Thursday are among the people who have worked the hardest to reverse the blight. But, they say, there is plenty of blame to go around for ease with which some youthful people are marginalized.

At times shouting over one another, the grouping agreed that Friday prayers would be a key moment to enlist the assistance of families. They planned to set up a single emergency no to warn of imminent disturbances. They batted around the idea of sending out text messages, Facebook posts. Anything to attempt and hold the peace.

"Out of ten kids, eight will get the message," said Ben Abdelkader. But, he added, "this is a radical generation, radical in their words, radical in their actions."

They placed hope — but tiny faith — in Belgian authorities to obstruct the groups from Molenbeek.

"For several youthful people, I've told them the police will hold things in hand and they've a tough time believing it," Turine said. "On Sun there were a lot of mistakes and this time we don't have the edge for error."

Police weren't at the meeting, but Turine met with them on Wednesday and secured promises that the situation was below control, and that the extreme-right troublemakers would be blocked.

And even if the protest doesn't materialize, they mused, there could be streets full of tense police and youthful men from the neighborhood spoiling for trouble. All it'd get is one confrontation, several said, leaving the conclusion unsaid.

"I prefer to deal with the kid I know I can cope with rather than the cops who can do anything they want," Ben Abdelkader said.

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