CNN Host Wonders If 'Fabric of Culture' Fed Into Terrorist Attack

CNN's Michaela Pereira drifted into the realm of the politically incorrect on Tuesday's New Day during a panel discussion on the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Pereira noted that one of her guests spotlighted how "this base of the [terrorist] network dates back some 15 years — back to 9/11." She wondered, "I hate to even think this. Is it just too ingrained in the fabric of the culture there — a culture they can't seem to penetrate — the Belgium authorities?" [video below]

The anchor turned to Politico's Ryan Heath and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies for their take on the ongoing investigation into the attacks. Both talking heads underlined the "breadth of this network," as Gartenstein-Ross put it, and the inability of European law enforcement to neutralize their operations. Heath pointed out that "the Belgian authorities just simply haven't had the manpower, and haven't been able to benefit from enough of the information sharing across different European authorities, to really get on top of this."

When Pereira asked her "ingrained in the fabric of the culture" question, Gartenstein-Ross cited how two Islamists from Belgium killed the head of the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan just before 9/11:

MICHAELA PEREIRA: Daveed, you have said that this base of the network dates back some 15 years — back to 9/11. Is it — I hate to even think this — is it just too ingrained in the fabric of the culture there — a culture they can't seem to penetrate — the Belgium authorities?

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Now, to be clear, when talking about the breadth of the network and how far it dates back, I'm talking about the connections of various radical elements there. And when Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated...a leader in the Northern Alliance who fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan — he was killed just two days before the 9/11 attacks, as a precursor to those attacks — he was killed by Belgians who do have links to members of this network.

But, you know, the network, itself — the current one that carried out these attacks — is, in many ways, new, and related to the rise of ISIS in Syria. But the radicalism and extremism dates back through networks like Sharia for Belgium, which is a very well-known militant network which helped facilitate the travel of fighters over to Iraq and Syria.

Earlier in the segment, Heath noted that "the authorities we had been speaking to in the aftermath of the Paris attacks...said they expected around about 40 of 117 known radicals to have returned to Belgium — that they thought 40 of them were ready to cause major damage either in Belgium or elsewhere."

The transcript of the panel discussion from the April 5, 2016 edition of CNN's New Day:

MICHAELA PEREIRA: Two weeks ago today, we were in our live coverage of this horrifying event. We're still discussing this now because the — the tentacles of this are just now starting to be shown. Daveed, this article in the Wall Street Journal says that they're chasing dozens of these Islamic radicals linked to the Brussels terror network. They know there are — many of them are people that have returned from fighting abroad. What does this say to you about the breadth of this network?

[CNN Graphic: "Terror Suspects Connected To Attacks At Large"]

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: The breadth of this network is tremendous. It's the first time that you've had a jihadist network in Europe that was able to carry out a major attack — that being the Paris attack — and then bear the full brunt of law enforcement resources being drawn down upon it and carry out another attack — the Brussels attack. And even after that attack, which was four months after the first one, authorities were — have said they only now are getting their heads wrapped around this network. That speaks to quite a bit.

The fact that you still have dozens — including seemingly, according to French reports, the senior bomb maker, who are still at large — means that it has the capacity to attack again.  And it shows just how much authorities are overstretched and lack information.

[CNN Graphic: "How Big Is Network Behind Recent Terror Attacks?"]

PEREIRA: Lacking information; overstretched; only now, Ryan, understanding how big this could be — you're there. Give us an idea of how you think Belgian authorities are reacting to this. Are they behaving as though they understand that they've got to get to the bottom of it?

[CNN Graphic: "Can Belgian Investigators Dismantle Terror Network?"]

RYAN HEATH, SENIOR EU CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes, but the truth is they're in over their heads. And I think the reality, Michaela, is that they've known for quite a long time that it was this big. They were, perhaps, not aware at how skilled the bomb-making capacities were, or how advanced some of the plans were. But the authorities we had been speaking to in the aftermath of the Paris attacks — and even one week before the Paris attacks — said they expected around about 40 of 117 known radicals to have returned to Belgium — that they thought 40 of them were ready to — to cause major damage either in Belgium or elsewhere.

So, if anything, I'm a little surprised at the number of 22. I think it could possibly be larger. And I think that the Belgian authorities just simply haven't had the manpower, and haven't been able to benefit from enough of the information sharing across different European authorities, to really get on top of this. And that's a very hard thing to turn around quickly. It's not something that you can click your fingers and get another 100 agents doing surveillance overnight, unfortunately—

PEREIRA: No, we understand that's not something that can happen quickly; and again, that 22 number is the Wall Street Journal's number. CNN hasn't been able to — to verify that.

Daveed, you have said that this base of the network dates back some 15 years — back to 9/11. Is it — I hate to even think this — is it just too ingrained in the fabric of the culture there — a culture they can't seem to penetrate — the Belgium authorities?

GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: Now, to be clear, when talking about the breadth of the network and how far it dates back, I'm talking about the connections of various radical elements there. And when Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated — he was the — a leader in the Northern Alliance who fought against the Taliban in Afghanistan — he was killed just two days before the 9/11 attacks, as a precursor to those attacks — he was killed by Belgians who do have links to members of this network.

But, you know, the network, itself — the current one that carried out these attacks — is, in many ways, new, and related to the rise of ISIS in Syria. But the radicalism and extremism dates back through networks like Sharia for Belgium, which is a very well-known militant network which helped facilitate the travel of fighters over to Iraq and Syria.

Look, this is a major problem, and I think that what European authorities need to be thinking about is not just getting people for terrorism offenses. Rather, they can take a page from what the U.S. did with Al Capone. You know, Al Capone was the U.S.'s first celebrity criminal. He was ultimately arrested, indicted, and went to prison not for bootlegging; not for murder; not for being a mobster; but for income tax evasion. They need to break up these networks. They need to get these guys off the streets.

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