October 28, 2016

Pressure grows on Dutch security minister over Brussels attacks

Dutch security minister Ard van der Steur

The Dutch security minister battled to keep his job on Thursday as he faced criticism from across the political spectrum over his handling of counter-terrorism intelligence ahead of last month’s suicide bombings in Brussels.

Ard van der Steur faced tough questions during a heated parliamentary debate over the March 22 bombings that killed 32 people in the Belgian capital.

In the days following the attacks, the minister said US police had alerted the Dutch a week before the bombings that the two brothers who blew themselves up were wanted, but there was no follow up.

“Why was there no pro-active response to this intelligence?” Emile Roemer, leader of the opposition Socialists, asked on Thursday. “I want to know if this minister is part of the solution or the problem.”

The minister last month published a letter from Turkey on the deportation in July 2015 of one of the brothers. He passed through customs in the Netherlands unchecked because he was not yet on an international blacklist and had requested not to be sent to Belgium, where he had violated parole.

Responding to the criticism on Thursday, the minister defended the intelligence service. He said he had no intention of resigning but conceded that in hindsight authorities “could have asked a few more questions.”

“My job is clear: To ensure that everyone in the Netherlands who is responsible for guaranteeing our safety day and night has what they need,” he said. “I intended to continue doing that.”

Geert Wilders, leader of the eurosceptic Freedom Party, told parliament: “I only have one question for the minister… don’t you think it’s time to resign?”

Wilders’ comment fuelled expectations that opposition parties would call a no-confidence vote in van der Steur, who retained the backing of his own party, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

Van der Steur also admitted incorrectly citing in parliament the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, rather than the New York Police Department, as the source of information about bombers Brahim and Khalid El Bakraoui.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Brussels bombings and for strikes that killed 130 people in Paris last November.

The need for better intelligence-sharing across the European Union has become a mantra since those attacks. But despite an agreement to pool data through European police agency Europol only a few of the bloc’s 28 member states are doing so, intelligence sources say.

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