As French police and detectives tried to make sense of the coordinated attacks that rocked Paris on Friday, eyewitnesses reported to have seen black-clad men emerging from cars with Belgian license plates. That led detectives to search a car with foreign license plates parked near the Bataclan theater, where at least 89 concertgoers were murdered. Upon searching the car, they found a discarded parking ticket, issued in Molenbeek, an impoverished district of Brussels.
That, as part of a larger investigation, led French authorities to identify the alleged organizer of the Paris attacks: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Belgian who had fought in Syria with the self-proclaimed Islamic State and was already on Belgian authorities’ radar as a suspect in a terrorist plot that was thwarted in January. Friday’s massacre, French President Francois Hollande said, was “planned in Syria, organized in Belgium, perpetrated on our soil with French complicity.”
This is not the first time that Belgium has made news as a source of radicals. In recent years, it has become Europe’s largest per capita exporter of fighters to Syria and Iraq: Official figures indicate that more than 350 Belgians—unofficial research points to more than 500—have gone to Syria from a country of 11 million.