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U.S. frustration simmers over Belgium’s struggle with militant threat

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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U.S. frustration simmers over Belgium’s struggle with militant threat | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

U.S. frustration simmers over Belgium’s struggle with militant threat
Phuket Gazette / Reuters


WASHINGTON: Shortly after last November’s attacks on Paris by a Brussels-based Islamic State cell, a top U.S. counter-terrorism official traveling in Europe wanted to visit Brussels to learn more about the investigation.

When the official tried to arrange meetings, however, his Belgian counterparts were not welcoming, according to U.S. officials familiar with the events. The Belgians indicated it was a bad time to speak to foreign officials as they were too busy with the investigation, said the officials, who asked not to be identified.

Belgian officials declined to comment on the incident.

The brush-off was one small sign of mounting U.S. frustration over Brussels’ handling of its worsening Islamic militant threat.

Concern that the small European nation’s security and intelligence officials are overwhelmed – and that its coordination with allies falls short – have again come to the fore following the Islamic State-claimed attacks on Tuesday that killed at least 31 people.

Several U.S. officials say that security cooperation has been hampered by patchy intelligence-sharing by Brussels and wide differences in the willingness of different agencies to work with foreign countries, even close allies.

One U.S. government source said that when American investigators try to contact Belgian agencies for information, they often struggle to find which agency or part of an agency might have relevant information.

Belgium has ordered a sharp increase in security budgets following the Paris attacks, despite being under steady pressure to limit its debt levels under euro zone rules. The government has promised to recruit around 2,500 more federal police, who pursue major crimes, to make up for a shortfall of close to a fifth of the full-strength force of 12,500.

It also says it thwarted a major attack in January 2015, and is eager to cooperate with European and U.S. counterparts.

“These attacks show that more coordination with the United States is clearly desirable,” Guy Rapaille, the president of the committee that provides oversight of Belgium’s security and intelligence services, told Belgium’s state broadcaster RTBF.

“But you have to remember that big powers guard their intelligence very closely.”

U.S. officials acknowledge the recent Belgian efforts to step up funding and recruitment.

Yet they say Belgian security services are outmatched by the threat in a country that, per capita, has supplied the highest number of foreign fighters to Syria of any European nation.

“They’re way behind the ball and they’re paying a terrible price,” Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told Reuters.

Asked on Wednesday whether Belgium was too complacent over the threat posed by Islamic militancy, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said:

“I want to stay clear of saying that Belgium was somehow caught by surprise or not aware. You know, we collaborate, we work with Belgium closely.”

Some U.S. counter-terrorism officials say much of the gap between Washington and Belgium – and some other European countries – is cultural. Europeans’ deeper commitment to personal privacy sometimes prevents or delays sharing of information such as travel data – that is taken for granted in the United States.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. government radically reshaped its counter-terrorism agencies. It broke down walls between law enforcement and intelligence authorities, and created new coordinating institutions such as the Director of National Intelligence and National Counterterrorism Center.

Belgium, by contrast, is a patchwork country divided between French and Dutch speakers and with multiple levels of government.

Belgian security chiefs have repeatedly complained that they cannot handle up to 900 home-grown Islamist militants, among the highest per-capita rates in Europe. Belgium does not divulge the exact number of personnel in its security services and military intelligence, but security experts say they appear under-resourced compared to European counterparts.

“Add to that the problem of two languages (French and Flemish), lack of Arabic speakers, and weak coordination between national and local government, and you have a huge discrepancy between threat and response,” said former CIA official and White House advisor Bruce Riedel, now at the Brookings Institution.

— Phuket Gazette Editors



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Elderly mother of murdered Thai woman is seeking help to bring her daughter’s body home

The Thaiger

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Elderly mother of murdered Thai woman is seeking help to bring her daughter’s body home | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Matichononline

The family of a Thai woman murdered in northern Portugal in March is now calling for assistance with the cost of repatriating the body back to Thailand.

According to Portuguese media the woman, Natchaya Saranyaphat, was murdered on March 7 by another Thai woman. Natchaya’s head was found on the Leca da Palmeira beach, 300 kilometres north of Lisbon on the Atlantic coast.

The dead woman’s 76 year old mother from the north-eastern Surin province says that Natchaya was the youngest of her five children. She says her daughter had been working in Portugal and been sending back up to 6,000 per month. Another Thai woman, Sangam Sawaiprkhon, has since been arrested in Portugal as a suspect in the murder of Natchaya, allegedly over a disagreement about 358,000 baht. They had jointly invested in a massage shop in Portugal.

The woman’s elderly mother says she needs help from the provincial or Thai government as her family is very poor and unable to pay for the retune of her daughter’s body for burial.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson says they had received a report from the Royal Thai embassy in Lisbon and local police about the murder and the arrest of the Thai suspect in Portugal.

Elderly mother of murdered Thai woman is seeking help to bring her daughter's body home | News by The Thaiger

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Southeast Asia

LATEST: Sri Lanka bombings

The Thaiger

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LATEST: Sri Lanka bombings | The Thaiger

A wave of explosions rocked Sri Lanka up-scale hotels and churches on Easter Sunday around the capital Colombo. This is what we know…

• At least 215 people have been confirmed dead with up to 450 more injured in a series of bombings targeting churches holding Easter services and hotels in Sri Lanka. The toll is likely to rise during today or at least become more precise as officials tally information from emergency responders.

• Most of the dead are said to be Sri Lankans, but officials say up to 40 foreigners have lost their lives.

• Three UK nationals and two US-UK dual nationals were among the dead. One Dutch, one Chinese, one Portuguese and two Turkish nationals have been killed, their respective foreign ministries have confirmed.

• There were six initial blasts, at three hotels and three churches, before two more explosions some time later, at a guest house and housing scheme, with two people reported to have been killed at the former. A government minister says the last two blasts appeared to have been carried out by the culprits as they fled from police.

• No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but Sri Lanka’s defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene claims the culprits have been identified and were religious extremists. He said suicide bombers were responsible for the majority of the morning’s bombings and that the wave of attacks was the work of a single group.

• Eight people are reported to have been arrested so far.

• The Sri Lankan government has issued a curfew and shut down social media and messaging services to prevent the spread of disinformation.

• Sri Lanka’s PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has condemned the “cowardly” attacks and urged people to remain “united and strong”.

• The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, called it “a very sad day” and is urging the government to identify the attackers and “punish them mercilessly because only animals can behave like that”.

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Southeast Asia

Mitsubishi testing their new regional jet

The Thaiger

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Mitsubishi testing their new regional jet | The Thaiger

PHOTO: The Japan Times

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ new 88-passenger Mitsubishi Regional Jet is testing the skies just as rivals Embraer and Bombardier are moving to sell off their manufacturing operations for jets with up to 160 seats to Boeing and Airbus.

At stake, particularly in the market for jets with fewer seats, is US$135 billion in sales in the two decades through 2037, according to industry group Japan Aircraft Development.

More cities in Asia and Europe are seeking to link up with each other and the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, the first airliner built in Japan since the 1960s, began certification flights last month in Moses Lake, Washington.

With fewer seats and smaller fuselages, regional jets are a different class of aircraft from larger narrow-body planes such as Boeing’s 737 or Airbus’s A320. The MRJ has a range of about 3,220 kilometres. The seating is 2+2 instead of 3+3 in a small Airbus or Boeing single-aisle jet.

After spending at least US$2 billion over more than a decade, the manufacturer is looking to get its jet certified and start deliveries to launch partner ANA Holdings.

Mitsubishi initially planned test flights in 2012 but blew past that deadline because of production difficulties. Now, the company, which makes ships, nuclear power plants and aerospace components, expects to have the plane ready for customers next year, a timetable that will test the company, said Mitsubishi Aircraft president Hisakazu Mizutani.

Mitsubishi Heavy is not the only Asian manufacturer betting that it can build aircraft cheaper and more efficiently. Commercial Aircraft of China (Comac) has a new regional jet in service, while Korea Aerospace Industries is studying whether to develop a 100-passenger aircraft.

“The aviation market in Asia is expected to grow further in the coming years and there will be demand for these aircraft,” said analyst Lee Dong-heon at Daishin Securities in Seoul.

“The shift in the regional aviation segment we have seen over the last year or so has opened opportunities.”

“The MRJ is fully capable of competing in the market.”

Mitsubishi testing their new regional jet | News by The Thaiger

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