TIME On Our Radar

A Photographer’s Quest to Rediscover His Native Belgium

After spending most of his life abroad, Cedric Gerbehaye comes back to Belgium

Photojournalist Cedric Gerbehaye has spent more than a decade working outside of his native Belgium. He’s covered the conflict in Israel and Palestine, South Sudan’s difficult independence and Congo’s struggle with peace after years of violence.

So, when he was awarded a grant from the Photoreporter festival in 2012 to produce a new body of work, he chose an unlikely location: his own country.

“I had this desire to work at home, which I had never done before,” he tells TIME, as his stark photographs of Belgium are published in a new book and exhibited at the Foto Museum in Antwerp. “I’ve always worked abroad from my very first assignment in Palestine. I haven’t stopped for 10 years. I wanted to see what I would be able to do in Belgium — working away from the news.”

His desire to concentrate on his country was also sparked by his interactions with his subjects abroad. “Every time, I was asked about Belgium, a country that I didn’t really know, in fact.” And that was when Belgium was going through some of the biggest upheavals in its modern history. In 2010 and 2011, the nation had gone 541 days without a functioning government, and in 2013 it welcomed a new King after Albert II relinquished his post.

cedric-gerbehaye-book

Gerbehaye started working with no particular angle in mind, he says. “My goal was to take my time, to find myself. I wanted to discover my own country, get into my car and drive for three or 10 days. The only thing I knew was that I didn’t want to talk about what everyone talks about, which is the differences between the north and the south, between the Flemish and the Walloon communities. People often have a set idea of Belgium. I wanted to get away from that.”

The result is Gerbehaye’s most personal work – images at times amusing and at times tragic, which convey a sense of community but also of loneliness in a country that struggles with its own identity. “It addresses questions like what it means to be home. How do you define home?” says Gerbehaye.

The results of the three-year slow-journalism experiment have affirmed Gerbehaye’s decision to take his time. “I realized that I need to create real relationships with the people I photograph,” he explains, “to understand what they are going through.”

Cedric Gerbehaye is a photographer with Agence VU.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

TIME medicine

Woman Gives Birth After a Transplant of Her Own Frozen Ovarian Tissue

Case hailed as a scientific breakthrough

Over a decade ago, a bone marrow transplant left a Belgian girl infertile. Now, a transplant of her own frozen ovarian tissue has helped her get pregnant and give birth to a healthy baby boy, Sky News reports.

The scientific breakthrough is likely to benefit other sick children who lose their fertility through cancer treatments.

“Freezing ovarian tissue is the only available option for preserving their fertility,” Dr Isabelle Demeestere, a fertility specialist at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, told media. The details of the transplant were published in Human Reproduction, a medical journal.

The patient, who suffered from sickle cell anemia, was 13 when her ovary was frozen and she had yet to start her period.

A decade later, four pieces of the frozen tissue were transplanted onto the patient’s remaining ovary at her request. Two years after the transplant, she was pregnant, Sky News reports

Doctors reportedly expect the woman’s ovary function to remain normal, allowing her to have more children in the future.

[Sky News]

TIME Internet

New Google Doodle Honors Inventor of Flat Map Gerardus Mercator

Google

Jailed for heresy in 1544, Mercator later revolutionized navigational theory

To celebrate his 503rd birthday, Flemish mathematician and cartographer Gerardus Mercator, who in 1569 discovered how to create a flat map that takes into consideration the curvatures of the earth, has been honored in a new Google Doodle.

His theory, dubbed the “Mercator projection,” was a major breakthrough for navigation because for the first time sailors could plot a route using straight lines without constantly adjusting their compass readings.

However, because the projection lengthens the longitudinal parallels, the scale of objects enlarge dramatically as they near the north and south poles and the method becomes unusable at around 70 degrees north/south.

Mercator was ahead of his time, not living to see his discovery become fully employed, but “by the eighteenth century the projection had been adopted almost universally by European navigators,” TIME wrote in 2013.

The cartographer was born on March 5, 1512, in the town of Rupelmonde in Flanders (today a part of Belgium). He was educated in the Netherlands and in 1544 was jailed for heresy due to his protestant faith and frequent traveling for research. He died on Dec. 2, 1594.

Read next: 8 Outstanding Google Tools You Should Know About

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TIME Behind the Photos

World Press Photo Withdraws Controversial Award

Giovanni Troilo Oct. 10, 2014. Charleroi, Belgium. Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons.

The about-face follows a week of intense debates within the photojournalism industry and comes just three days after World Press Photo stood behind its award to Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo

Acting on new information, World Press Photo has revoked the award it bestowed on Giovanni Troilo’s controversial series of images about the city of Charleroi in Belgium.

The decision comes just three days after the Dutch organization conducted an investigation into allegations that some of Troilo’s images had been staged. At that time, World Press Photo upheld the original award, as the organization was unable to find “grounds for doubting the photographer’s integrity in carrying out his work,” it said in a statement.

But, as TIME revealed on Monday, World Press Photo’s investigation was flawed: the organization only relied on testimony from the photographer and the mayor of Charleroi to ascertain whether Troilo’s pictures had been staged.

Following these revelations, and acting on new information provided by photojournalists Thomas Van Den Driessche and Bruno Stevens, who conducted their own investigations, World Press Photo has now concluded that Troilo’s story “was not in compliance with the entry rules and therefore the award must be revoked,” the group said in a statement.

“Troilo submitted his story, titled ‘La Ville Noir – The Dark Heart of Europe,’ to the 2015 Photo Contest as a story about the Belgian city of Charleroi,” the statement said. “However, World Press Photo learned that the photo of a painter creating a work with live models had instead been shot in Molenbeek, Brussels. Troilo confirmed over telephone and email that the image had not been taken in Charleroi, contrary to what he submitted to the contest. This falsified information is a violation of the 2015 Photo Contest entry rules.”

The World Press Photo contest “must be based on trust in the photographers who enter their work and in their professional ethics,” managing director Lars Boering said in a statement. “We have checks and controls in place, of course, but the contest simply does not work without trust. We now have a clear case of misleading information and this changes the way the story is perceived. A rule has now been broken and a line has been crossed.”

As a result of Troilo’s disqualification, Giulio Di Sturco’s series on Chollywood has been promoted from 2nd Prize to 1st Prize in the Contemporary Issues category, and Tomas van Houtryve’s Blue Sky Days from 3rd Prize to 2nd Prize.

TIME Behind the Photos

World Press Photo Upholds Controversial Decision

The gas supply tubes run along the houses built near the steel factories of Charleroi. Before the electric upgrade of the blast furnace these tubes used to provide the energy necessary to this operation. The factory and furnace infringe and loom over the lives of the inhabitants.
Giovanni Troilo The gas supply tubes run along the houses built near the steel factories of Charleroi. Before the electric upgrade of the blast furnace these tubes used to provide the energy necessary to this operation. The factory and furnace infringe and loom over the lives of the inhabitants.

The Dutch organization stands by its decision to award Giovanni Troilo's work

World Press Photo is standing firm behind its decision to uphold the Contemporary Issues award it bequeathed upon Giovanni Troilo after the Italian photographer was accused of staging his work.

The claims came after the mayor of Charleroi, Belgium, where Troilo shot his award-winning project The Dark Heart of Europe, wrote to World Press Photo to contest the work, as first revealed by the French photography website OAI13.

“The photographer’s constructed photographic subject is regarded by [Charleroi] as a serious distortion of reality that undermines the city and its inhabitants, as well as the profession of photojournalist,” wrote Charleroi’s mayor, Paul Magnette. “The falsified and misleading captions, the travesty of reality, the construction of striking images staged by the photographer are all profoundly dishonest and fail to respect the codes of journalistic ethics. In our opinion, this work does not comply with the objective of the competition.”

After a three-day investigation, World Press Photo found “no grounds for doubting the photographer’s integrity in carrying out his work,” the organization said in a statement. “No misleading facts have been uncovered in the caption information that was made available for the jury. As a result Giovanni Troilo’s award stands in the 2015 Photo Contest.”

The extent of the organization’s investigation, World Press Photo told TIME, was “scanning local newspapers for reports about crime and other issues in the suburbs [of Charleroi],” talking to the city’s mayor and asking the photographer to provide “further clarification about his work methods.” Though the question at hand is whether the photographs were staged, World Press Photo did not directly contact Troilo’s subjects.

“We had to judge [Troilo’s award] again on the facts and basis of his declaration,” the organization’s managing director Lars Boering told TIME. “So our decision to confirm his award is based on the story he shared with us.”

The final decision was made by the chair of this year’s jury, Michele McNally of the New York Times; the secretary of the jury, David Campbell; and Boering himself. McNally was unable to comment at the time of writing.

Speaking to TIME, Troilo said that none of his images had been staged — including a particularly controversial photograph of his cousin having sex in the back of a car. “I started this project one year ago,” Troilo said in a phone interview facilitated by a translator. “I’ve spent my childhood there. And I saw different scenes of sex that were pretty rude, to tell you the truth.”

Giovanni TroiloOct. 10, 2014. Charleroi, Belgium. Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons.

As Troilo worked on his project, which uses Charleroi to discuss the slow decline of Europe, his cousin repeatedly suggested that he photograph him while having sex. “What I did is pretty much letting them know that there was a camera, and I just took a photo,” says Troilo. “They knew I was there, and they didn’t do anything different than what they would have done.”

The photographer, however, admitted to using a flashlight underneath the couple to improve the image’s quality.

Giovanni TroiloDec. 10, 2014. Charleroi, Belgium. Maitre Doberman and Klara la Chienne, his wife, receive guests in a building that at glance appears abandoned.

In another image of a husband and wife engaged in BDSM, Troilo says the shot was the result of a meeting he had with the couple. “I went in there and I asked them to do what they are used to doing in their private lives,” he tells TIME. “That’s what I saw and that’s what I took pictures of. [The woman] in the cage is something that’s not peculiar at all. It’s something they do.”

More problematic is Troilo’s use of the words “psychiatric asylum” in a caption portraying a woman laying her head on a table. In its investigation, World Press Photo learned that the stage for Troilo’s photo was a nursing home, which TIME independently confirmed. And while Troilo claimed that the home had a psychiatric ward, a spokesperson for the institution said it only had people suffering from Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease, two degenerative disorders common in old age.

Giovanni Troilo - World Press Photo 03
Giovanni TroiloDec. 9, 2014. Charleroi, Belgium. A woman in a psychiatric asylum.

Boering tells TIME that his organization asked Troilo to explain where this particular image was shot. “He explained to us that it was a nursing home where his aunt also was,” he says. “I think it was a bad choice of words from Giovanni. I need to check with the team that researched it, but I don’t think it was considered a big issue.”

Whether or not it was a big issue, the controversy has damaged World Press Photo’s reputation, with photographers calling for a boycott of next year’s competition. The organization had to issue two clarifications to statements it made in the last three weeks, including one that was interpreted as condoning staging in photojournalism — a claim World Press Photo clarified earlier today.

“There are always debates about World Press Photo,” said Boering, who acknowledged that his organization had suffered a blow. “It’s up to us to start a dialogue and listen to all the opinions. If we think as a professional community we should change things concerning manipulations and ethics, we will listen and we will change [our] rules as well.”

World Press Photo is not “an arrogant foundation that does it all by itself and doesn’t consult the industry,” he added. “On the contrary, that’s something that will need to be [addressed] in the next couple of months. At this point, it’s damaging World Press Photo because there are a lot of people expressing their discontent with this. But we have to slow down this yelling and look back at the facts, and listen to people who are in favor of this decision.” That debate, however, should not take place on social media, he said.

“We have to realize that the photos and the stories, and everything that we judge, are being sent in by the professional community,” Boering added. “We should look at this both ways: what we get is what we judge; and what we judge will end up into a result; and that result will always be debated but it’s also very important for the photographic community to realize what’s [happening] on the side of people who produce work. What is staging? Are all photographers showing what they see in front of their lenses? It’s very hard for the audience to know what happened around [a] photo when it was taken. It’s something you have to keep in mind.”

Update: World Press Photo has since announced it was reopening its investigation into Troilo’s award.

TIME Behind the Photos

Belgian Mayor Says Award-Winning Photos of His City ‘Distort Reality’

World Press Photo jury
Bas de Meijer Members of the specialized and general jury for the 2015 World Press Photo Contest.

Images of Charleroi by Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo "profoundly dishonest," says city's mayor

The mayor of Charleroi, Belgium, has asked World Press Photo to withdraw an award given to Italian photographer Giovanni Troilo for a series of images that he says “undermines” his city and its inhabitants.

The move, first revealed by French photography website Our Age is 13, comes three weeks after the World Press Photo jury awarded Troilo the first prize in the Contemporary Issues Stories category.

In his work, Troilo says that the city of Charleroi “has experienced the collapse of industrial manufacturing, rising unemployment, increasing immigration and outbreak of micro-criminality. The roads, once fresh and neat, appear today desolated and abandoned, industries are closing down, and vegetation grows in the old industrial districts.”

In an extended description, published on his website, the Italian photographer, which calls Charleroi the “dark heart of Europe,” adds: “A perverse and sick sex, race hate, neurotic obesity and the abuse of psychiatric drugs seem to be the only cures being able to make this endemic uneasiness acceptable.”

In a letter, seen by TIME LightBox and sent to World Press Photo and Michele McNally, chair of this year’s jury and director of photography at the New York Times, Charleroi’s mayor Paul Magnette expresses his surprise and dismay, claiming that “the photographer’s constructed photographic subject is regarded by [Charleroi] as a serious distortion of reality that undermines the city and its inhabitants, as well as the profession of photojournalist.” Troilo has yet to return a request for comment on the claims.

Magnette continues: “Indeed, this work uses essentially staging technique that adds to the drama of the images through an artificial lighting. If this was a private artwork, it would not be a problem. Unfortunately, the photographer does not seem to present his work as such. He claims to be doing investigative journalism; a photo essay reflecting a simple reality. But this is far from being the case: the falsified and misleading captions, the travesty of reality, the construction of striking images staged by the photographer are all profoundly dishonest and fail to respect the codes of journalistic ethics. In our opinion, this work does not comply with the objective of the competition.”

The mayor’s letter goes on to analyze Troilo’s photographs and captions, including one that purports to show a couple having sex in a car. Troilo submitted the image to World Press Photo with the caption: “Locals know of parking lots popular for couples seeking sexual liaisons.” On his website, however, the photographer reveals that the image was set up: “My cousin accepted to be portrayed while fornicating with a girl in his friend’s car. For them it was not strange.”

Troilo’s work should be reevaluated, the mayor concluded. “Charleroi is not, on any account, the black heart of Europe,” Magnette writes. “You will not find one single inhabitant who will recognize his city in these pictures, not to mention the captions that look more like a settling of scores than a reportage.”

World Press Photo has confirmed receiving the letter. “We are currently verifying the facts behind the photo story, as we do with all the prizewinning pictures, and we are in touch with the photographer Giovanni Troilo,” a spokeswoman tells TIME.

The controversy comes after World Press Photo and various international photography organizations have been debating the use of post-processing techniques, which led to the disqualification of 20% of entries in the competition’s penultimate round.

TIME Belgium

Belgian Troops Take to Streets to Guard Against Possible Terrorist Attacks

Belgian soldiers guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Brussels near the Belgian Parliament on Jan. 17, 2015.
Eric Vidal—Reuters Belgian soldiers guard outside the U.S. Embassy in Brussels near the Belgian Parliament on Jan. 17, 2015.

Soldiers reinforced police in Belgium after a raid on an Islamist cell Thursday

Belgium’s defense ministry said Saturday said that the country is deploying hundreds of troops to guard possible terrorism targets, including Jewish sites and diplomatic missions after deadly raids on an Islamist cell.

As many as 300 military will be stationed at locations like the U.S. and Israeli embassies in Brussels and NATO and European Union institutions, Reuters reports. They will be supporting regular police.

“It’s very important to say that this wasn’t a simple decision, but it was necessary, at a time when police are overly engaged, for the army to enter in a supporting role,” Defense Minister Steven Vandeput told reporters.

The government raised the threat level to 3 on a scale of 4 this week, after a raid Thursday in the east Belgian town of Verviers, in which police fatally shot two gunmen, who authorities said were preparing an attack on police.

Troops with machine guns stood guard outside Jewish schools in Antwerp, where there is a large Jewish population. In Brussels, soldiers stood outside EU institutions.

The Brussels Jewish Museum was the site of an Islamist attack last May that killed four people.

[Reuters]

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: January 16

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Europe On High Alert

Authorities launched a wave of counter-terrorism raids across Europe overnight and into Friday morning, resulting in two deaths and 23 arrests, as the continent steps up security measures in the wake of last week’s attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo

Coke Fights the Soda Slump

Soda sales are in decline, but one sliver of the soft drink market—the segment that comes in smaller-than-usual sizes—is booming

Google Decides Glass Half Empty

The company said it will stop selling the smart glasses to individual customers through its Explorer program after Jan. 19

Early Picks for Oscar Night

Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel (pictured) led the way in nominations for the 87th Academy Awards with nine nods each, while Selma received only two.

Muhammad Ali Back in Hospital for ‘Follow-up Care’

Boxing icon Muhammad Ali was checked back into a hospital on Thursday for follow-up care, after suffering from a severe urinary-tract infection in December. Ali is hoping to recover soon and plans to celebrate his 73rd birthday on Saturday at home, said a family spokesman

Nebraska Bill Would Abolish Closing Time for Bars

A Nebraska state senator introduced legislation Thursday that would allow bars in the state to stay open all night, if they wished. State and local laws generally require the Cornhusker state’s bars to stop serving alcohol at 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.

Flu Shot a Flub, CDC Says

People who got a flu shot this winter are only 23% less likely to get the flu than someone who didn’t get the vaccine, the CDC said in a new report. Since the health institute started tracking flu vaccine effectiveness in 2004, the rates have ranged from 10% to 60%

Oklahoma Resumes Executions After Nearly 9-Month Delay

Charles Warner was executed on Thursday night after the Supreme Court declined in a 5-4 ruling to intervene, making him the first death-row inmate to be put to death there since a botched lethal injection in April forced the state to reform its execution standards

28 Months Later Might Be in the Making

Alex Garland, the brain behind the cult zombie classics 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, says another film in the franchise may be in the offing and is having serious talks with director Danny Boyle

Republicans Want to Give President Obama More Power

Congress may pass a bill that would give President Barack Obama greater authority to negotiate an agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would affect about 40% of the world’s GDP and about a third of the world’s trade

African Papers Sorry for Charlie Hebdo Reprint

Kenya’s the Star and South Africa’s Citizen issued apologies this week for reprinting the controversial new cover of Charlie Hebdo, after the publication of the image triggered an uproar from Muslim readers

Judge Revokes Chris Brown Probation in Assault Case

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge revoked Chris Brown’s probation on Thursday but allowed him to remain free for now after the R&B singer traveled without approval for a concert and failed to complete community service on time

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A today, January 16 at 1 p.m., with TIME’s Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer. He has a story in this week’s TIME about the different kind of presidential campaign that Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee would run if he decides to seek that office a second time.

His other stories can be found here.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. We depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

You will need to be a TIME subscriber to read the Q & A. ($30 a year or 8 cents a day for the magazine and all digital content.) Once you’re signed up, you can log in to the site with a username and password.

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TIME europe

Europe On High Alert Following Shootings and Arrests

A shootout in Belgium, a bomb threat in Paris and raids across the region have left European authorities on edge

Officials across Europe were on high alert for terror threats Friday after a chaotic night in Belgium on Thursday that saw a deadly shootout in Verviers, counterterrorism raids across the country, and the arrest of 13 suspected militants.

The shootout in Verviers took place during a raid of a former bakery, when suspects opened fire on police. Two gunmen were killed and another was wounded and arrested during the confrontation. All three of the suspects have recently returned from Syria and were thought to be planning an attack on the police. Four Kalashnikov rifles, bomb-making equipment and police clothing were found after the raid, reports the Guardian citing local media sources.

“This operation stopped a major terrorist attack from taking place. You could say a second potential Paris has been averted,” federal prosecutor, Eric Van Der Sypt, told the Guardian, while authorities in Belgium raised the national terror alert level from 2 to 3, the second-highest level. Van Der Sypt told the Associated Press, “I cannot confirm that we arrested everyone in this group.”

Meanwhile, Jewish schools in Brussels and Antwerp were closed on Friday after authorities revealed they were a “potential target” for Islamist militants, reports the Guardian. An Orthodox Jewish school in the Netherlands was also closed as a precautionary measure, though there was no direct threat made against it.

In Paris, the scene of last week’s terrorist attacks that left 17 dead, authorities shut down and evacuated the Gare de l’Est train station early on Friday, after a bomb threat was made. A French police official told the Associated Press that the station was closed “as a precaution.” (No bomb was found.)

Paris is at its highest terrorism alert level. The prosecutor’s office reported that 12 people had been arrested during raids throughout the region, which targeted associates of the gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four people in a kosher supermarket and a policewoman last week, and claimed ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Coulibaly was killed at the market after a standoff with police, but his suspected accomplice and common-law wife, Hayat Boumeddiene, is still being sought by authorities.

Turkish authorities have said Boumeddiene crossed from Turkey into Syria on Jan. 8. Spanish authorities have reported that Coulibaly drove Boumeddiene from France to Madrid on New Year’s Eve and was with her until she took a Jan. 2 flight to Istanbul. Spain is still investigating what the couple did and who they contacted while in the country, and whether they had links with a terrorist cell in Spain.

Belgian police are also looking at possible links between a suspected arms dealer arrested in the southern town of Charleroi on Wednesday and Coulibaly; the man claimed that he wanted to buy a car from the Coulibaly’s wife, Van der Sypt told the AP. “At this moment this is the only link between what happened in Paris,” he said.

In Berlin, police arrested two men on Friday on suspicion of recruiting fighters for ISIS. They were taken into custody after a series of raids across the capital, which saw the search of 11 residences by 250 police officers. However authorities have said the raids were part of a months-long, ongoing investigation and not related to the recent attacks in Paris.

TIME Belgium

Belgium Anti-Terrorism Raid Foils Imminent Attack

Shootout comes the week after 17 people were killed at the office of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris

The deaths of two terrorist suspects in a gun battle between Belgian police and members of a suspected jihadist cell on Thursday confirms mounting fears that the small European nation is facing a disproportionally high risk of attacks from Islamist extremists returning from Syria.

Police and special forces who conducted the early evening raid in Verviers, a town near the German border, were acting on information that a terrorist cell comprised of people who recently returned from the Syrian battlefield were plotting an imminent strike, said Eric Van der Sypt, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor, at a news conference.

The assault on the property, one of around a dozen raids across Belgium on Thursday night that targeted suspected jihadists, comes the week after 17 people were killed in attacks at the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris. But Van der Sypt noted their investigation began prior to those attacks.

“During the investigation we found this group was about to commit terrorist attacks in Belgium,” Van der Sypt said, before describing how the suspects in Verviers immediately opened fire with automatic weapons for “several minutes” before two were shot dead and a third was arrested.

In light of the intelligence about potential attacks and the raid, authorities said the national terrorism threat alert would be raised to its second-highest level.

Belgium authorities have been aware of the extremist threat since reports emerged in 2012 of citizens heading to Syria to fight alongside Islamist militias. Last May, the nation become the first European country to experience an attack by a returning combatant when a Frenchman — Mehdi Nemmouche — opened fire in a Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four people.

Authorities have been struggling to tackle the phenomenon, with some municipalities stripping returning fighters of their residence rights, while other politicians and activists have urged a greater focus on rehabilitation and integration. Police, meanwhile, have been closely monitoring suspected extremist groups.

In April 2013, they raided 48 homes across Belgium in an operation to arrest people believed to be active in recruiting young people to fight in Syria. A few months later, a Belgian teenager posted a video on YouTube threatening a bomb attack on the Atomium, a structure built for the 1958 World’s Fair and one of Belgium’s biggest tourists attractions.

Belgian authorities estimate that around 300 of its citizens have been or are currently fighting in Syria, making up a large chunk of the 3,000 to 5,000 European fighters that Europol chief Rob Wainwright earlier this week estimated were in the country and at risk of radicalization.

“Clearly, we’re dealing with a large body of mainly young men who have the potential to come back and have the potential or the intent and capability to carry out attacks we have seen in Paris in the last week,” he told MPs in Britain.

With Belgium’s population of around 11 million, that gives the country one of Europe’s highest per capita rates of fighters in Syria, meaning a concentration of cells when they return home. Belgium’s border with France — which has also reported a large number of fighters in Syria — makes it vulnerable to extremists crossing over undetected, as was the case with Nemmouche, who is currently detained in Brussels and awaiting trial.

One of the shooters in the Paris attacks is believed to have bought his weapon in Brussels; prosecutors earlier Thursday confirmed they had detained a man on suspicion of selling weapons and were investigating whether there were any links to Amedy Coulibaly, the man accused in the killing of a French police officer and in the kosher-supermarket attack.

Belgium prides itself on being a multicultural society, but unemployment is high among the Muslim community and there have been reports of discrimination against Muslim women who choose to wear traditional clothing. A ban on the full-face veil came into force in 2011. Some far-right parties openly mock Islam, fueling alienation. Many of the Belgians believed to be fighting in Syria are, however, converts to the religion rather than from migrant communities.

Read next: The European Front

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