Of late, most of Europe has focused its counterterrorism efforts on handling the potential returnees from Syria, and possible radicals hiding among migrants from the region. Yet recent events indicate that not all European countries are fully prepared to defend against the radicals who already live there.
Case in point: Anjem Choudary, founder of the radical group Sharia4UK, was released from prison Friday. He served just half of his 5½-year sentence for inviting support for ISIS. Yet experts warned that he "actually got worse in prison," and now sees himself as a martyr.
By contrast, only days later, just across the channel, lawmakers took a different tack with Choudary's acolyte, Fouad Belkacem, founder of a group called Sharia4Belgium based on Choudary's model. Compounding his earlier 12-year sentence for promoting terrorism, a Belgian judge on Monday revoked the 36-year-old's Belgian citizenship. Although Belkacem is Belgian by birth, he also has Moroccan citizenship through his parents. He now fears being deported.
His lawyers have promised to contest the decision, insisting that Belkacem is "very sorry" for his actions. "He never thought the whole Sharia4Belgium story would end up like this," attorney Liliane Verjauw told the court, apparently overlooking the fact that Sharia4Belgium was demonstrably behind a large number of Belgian Muslims who joined the Islamic State.
Ironically, speaking of the man who sought to replace democratic Belgian laws with sharia-based law, Verjauw described the possibility of Belkacem's deportation to Morocco as "a disaster." "Democratic values are not easily found in such countries," she said.
By contrast, Choudary remains British, and has been released to a halfway house, where he is expected to remain for six months before being released into the community. Yet Nick Lowles, CEO of the anti-racist group Hope Not Hate, told the New York Times, "No other British citizen has had so much influence over so many terrorists as Choudary – we've tracked over 120 Islamist terrorists linked to him." Added former counterterrorism detective David Videcette, "There wasn't ever a time when I was researching individuals and extremists related to plots where someone involved wasn't connected to him."
Choudary's release conforms with UK laws that allow prisoners to exit midway through their term based on good behavior, the New York Times said. According to the terms of his release, however, he has been barred from attempting to radicalize others, though how such activities will be prevented is not clear. He is further banned from using the internet or speaking to children – measures he has said he intends to fight, calling them "disproportionate" to the crime and a violation of his human rights.
Six months from now, Belkacem is likely to be in Morocco, probably in prison. Choudary will be free to return to pursuing his dream of creating a sharia state in Europe. Which will make Europe safer?