According to a new report from the Belgian Coordinating Body for Threat Analysis (OCAM), the number of imams preaching Wahhabism, which is the branch of Sunni Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia, is rising — particularly in mosques and Islamic centers in Brussels, Antwerp and Mechelen.
Although still a minority in Belgium, the OCAM report says, the rise in Wahhabism is spreading — not just in Belgium, but throughout Europe — with the help of social media and dedicated TV channels.
Roshan Muhammed Salih, Editor of British Muslim news website 5Pillars, told Sputnik: "Saudi Arabia is throwing a lot of money at TV channels and training a lot of Islamic scholars. They spend about six years in Saudi Arabia and then go back to their home countries and they spread Wahhabism."
"It [Wahhabism] is a minority form of Islam and it has punched above its weight in terms of its influence in the Islamic world because of its dissemination. Generally, it is considered by lots of Muslims a very intolerant form of Islam in its attitude towards non-Muslims and other Islamic sects, such as Shia Sect and the Sunnis in particular," Mr. Salih told Sputnik.
"At the same time, I would say it's too simplistic to say that, if you're a Salafi [those who practice Wahhabism], that's like a slippery slope to terrorism. There are lots of Salafis out there who are apolitical in their viewpoint and they don’t necessarily publicly espouse intolerant views or seek to be aggressive to other people.
"Even though it's true that this trend is on the rise, in the Islamic world and also in Islamic communities in the west, — and I don't necessarily support that — I do think it's too simplistic to draw a direct line between Salafism and terrorism," he told Sputnik.
Belgium has been one of the main countries in Europe to be targeted by radicalized Islamic terrorists, with attacks on Brussels airport, the metro and links with the November 13 Paris attacks.
Many of the Paris attackers came from — or had links with — the poor district of Molenbeek, in Brussels, which was also targeted by intelligence agencies following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015.
The mayor of Molenbeek — dubbed a "terrorists' den" because of the sheer number of jihadists living there — in November 2016 admitted receiving a list of 80 suspected Islamic militants living in the area.
Salah Abdeslam, a Belgium-born French national of Moroccan descent is accused of involvement in the attacks in Paris on 13 November in which 130 people were killed and 368 others were injured. Abdelhamid Abaaoud — the ringleader of the attack —was a Belgian-Moroccan Islamic terrorist, killed during a police raid in the suburb of Saint-Denis in north Paris.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui, Najm al-Ashrawi, and Khalid al-Bakrawi were all Belgian nationals of Moroccan descent, who were the suicide bombers involved in the Brussels airport and the Maalbeek metro station in Brussels on 22 March 2016.
Belgium was heavily criticized in the French media, since the Paris attacks, with Le Monde newspaper calling it a "clearing house for jihadism" that risks becoming a "nation without a state.,"
OCAM warned that the increasing radicalization — caused by the rise in imams preaching Wahhabism — means that: "The moderate imam in his mosque cannot cope with this media violence."