S. E. Williams
On Tuesday morning as news of the terror visited upon Brussels, Belgium spread throughout San Bernardino, an unimaginable shock, inconceivable horror and unmitigated sadness was triggered in the recent memories of local residents. “Not again,” many thought as the community learned of the world’s most recent terror attack half a world away. The news tore open scars that had barely begun to heal in a community that knew all too well the psychological and emotional depths of such destruction.
“It’s not something you forget easily. It’s still pretty fresh in our minds,” San Bernardino County Sheriff Spokesperson Cindy Bachman told The Voice. She added, “I was definitely thinking about how the people in Brussels were feeling and remembering again what we went through here.”
There is no question the Brussels terrorist attacks revived memories of that fateful last December when terror was visited upon San Bernardino.
However, where San Bernardino was caught totally off guard, Brussels had walked on egg shells, so to speak. Since the Paris terrorist attacks last November—the perpetrators of that attack allegedly had deep roots in Brussels.
The timing of the attacks on Brussels followed the recent arrest of a suspect long-hunted in relation to the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam. He was finally captured and arrested late last week. According to numerous reports, due to the coordinated nature of the Brussels’ attacks some terror experts believe they were probably planned well in advance and possibly accelerated out of fear they might be compromised due to the arrest of Abdeslam.
The Brussels attacks began with two blasts in the departures terminal at the city’s International Airport. Within moments of the explosions the terminal was scattered with nearly a dozen dead bodies and scores of injured amid shattered glass.
Reporters told stories of a frantic scene with police working to restore order and direct survivors to safety as first responders attended to the dying and injured.
However, before officials could fully assess the chaos at the airport the terrorists struck again on a train in the center of the city. Brussels is the capital of Belgium and also home to both the European Parliament and the European Union—at this point, it’s hard to know whether Brussels, Belgium or Europe was the actual target.
Although the true target remains unclear, what is known is that hundreds of lives were changed forever. As of Tuesday morning the death toll continued to climb. There were at least 11 known dead and 81 injured in the airport attack and another 20 dead and at least 100 known injuries in the train attack.
According to reports, nine Americans were injured in the events. Included among them were three Mormon Missionaries and a member of the United States Air Force along with five members of his family.
When you hear the number of dead and injured it causes one to pause. “Even though you don’t know the people, it still takes a toll on you to know all of those lives have been changed,” Bachman reflected. Looking back on the tragedy in San Bernardino she continued, “Some died; some survived their injuries; but, it still has an effect on everyone as a community to know that these kinds of people, these terrorists, can live and work among us.”
More than 48 hours after the event, Belgium officials still struggled to discern the accuracy of some details. Bachman understands this quite intimately. “I remember the hard work it took to make sure the information got out to the public; to make sure we were putting out accurate information and at the same time dealing with new inf o rmation all the time,” Bachman shared.
The San Bernardino terrorists, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were radicalized ISIS supporters and within days of the attack, ISIS praised the attackers and claimed responsibility for the shooting; just as the organization has now claimed responsibility for the bombings in Brussels.
ISIS or the Islamic State released a statement to Amaq news agency. It read, “Islamic State fighters opened fire inside Zaventem airport before several of them detonated their explosive belts [and] a martyrdom bomber detonated his explosive belt in the Maelbeek metro station.”
President Barack Obama spoke of the incident during his historic visit to Cuba. He called it another reminder that the people of the world must unite. He declared, “We must be together regardless of nationality or race or faith, in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”
The President was not the only world leader to call for unity in the wake of the attack. The leaders of a number of nations joined the chorus. Included among them were Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi. They agreed the attack called for a global approach to combating terror and expressed the need for a common strategy to foster security and defense against terrorism in Europe.
In a press release yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson wrote, “We stand in solidarity with the Belgian people in condemning the terrorist attacks that occurred this morning in Brussels, we mourn the loss of those killed, and we will do what we can to help Belgian authorities bring to justice those responsible for the attacks. “
He continued, “At present, we have no specific, credible intelligence of any plot to conduct similar attacks here in the United States. That said, we remain very focused on the threat posed by lone terrorist actors who may lack direct connection to a foreign terrorist organization; we are concerned that such radicalized individuals or small groups could carry out an attack in the Homeland with little warning.” He added, “We also remain very engaged in the effort to identify and disrupt foreign terrorist fighters who may seek to travel to or from the United States.”
If You See Something, Say Something is more than a slogan, Johnson stressed and added, “Public awareness and vigilance are vital to our homeland security efforts, and have in fact prevented terrorist or criminal acts in the past.”
Johnson encouraged the public to continue to travel, visit public events and places, and go on with their daily lives, but at all times be aware and vigilant. He also encouraged everyone to report threats of suspicious activity to the FBI or your local authorities.
Information regarding how to contact an FBI Field Office is available on line at www.fbi/contact-us/field. In addition, community leaders, co-workers, friends and family can help by recognizing signs of potential radicalization to violence, for more information visit www.nsi.ncirc.gov.
Johnson’s comments were echoed locally by Bachman. “Remind people,” she encouraged, “to remain vigilant. Keep your eyes open,” she said and added, “Anything you see that is suspicious, whether it is a person’s action or a package, if you see something say something. We will investigate every report of any suspicious activity.”
According to Johnson, the Department of Homeland Security, along with partners in federal law enforcement and the intelligence community are doing a number of things to monitor events in Brussels and work with the authorities there, as it continues to secure America’s homeland.