On Sunday, Daesh recruiters dispatched text messages to young men in Brussels’ Muslim-dominated district of Molenbeek, calling on them to "make the right choice" and "fight the westerners."
The texts, according to a recent statement from Belgium’s health minister, were sent from an untraceable prepaid account and followed the distribution of a Facebook video showing Molenbeek youth celebrating last week’s terror attacks in Brussels that left at least 35 dead.
The SMS text message, written in French, says: "My brother, why not fight the westerners? Make the right choice in your life."
The use of mass, targeted online communication via social networks to distribute propaganda has heightened tensions in Brussels following the attacks, and has seen ever more strident calls for crackdowns against the Muslim community and barring entry for refugees. Officials fear that in the wake of the tragic attacks, disillusioned Muslim youth who face increased persecution may respond to Daesh’s call for violent extremism.
"These people are trying to take our youth by storm," said Jamal Ikazban, a local Socialist MP. "It is like having a big-time drug dealer outside the school gates. We feel the same. They have to be taken off the streets. They are predators and our youths are the victims."
The move by jihadists, dispatching call-to-arms text messages during a police lockdown, could incite tensions in Brussels and potentially leaves the recipients subject to investigation by Belgian authorities.
Community leaders are stepping up to try to reduce the risk of radicalization among Molenbeek’s Muslim youth population and to prevent increased turbulence from the region’s far-right. One such leader seeking to calm to turbid waters is Jamal Zaria, an imam at Molenbeek’s Arafat mosque who is meeting with community parents to come up with strategies to render terrorist propaganda ineffective.
"Our kids are being exposed to something like cancer at a metastasic stage," said Zaria, "It is really spreading very quickly. We have to race against time to develop an immune system for the children in our community so they reject the message of Daesh."
Notwithstanding efforts within the Islamic community to counter terror propaganda and to inoculate the community’s children against extremism, the polarization between Belgium’s Muslim and Christian communities has been amplified by new calls to expel Muslims.
One ultraconservative group will attempt to hold an “expel the Islamists” demonstration in Molenbeek on Saturday. The march has been banned due to fears that it will incite violence, but Belgian nationalists have successfully defied previous march prohibitions.