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Regional expert offers context on Belgium attacks

Jonathan White

A regional expert on terrorism provides context for Tuesday’s attacks in Belgium that killed 30 people and wounded more than 200 others. 

“There is a militant population – a very small militant population – that has located in Europe; they’ve grown militant.”

Jonathan White is executive director of the Homeland Defense Initiative at Grand Valley State University.

"They’re indigenous for the most part; that’s what we saw in the Paris attacks," he says. "We don’t know everything about the Belgian attacks at this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a local connection." 

White’s career includes consulting law enforcement on behalf of the federal government following the September 11 attacks. He says if there’s one constant, it’s that the activities of terrorism are always changing.

"Once we can map out an organization, once we master the counter-tactics – it makes it very difficult [for terrorism organizations] to pull [an attack] off," he says. 

White says the rise of social media and digital resources have been a boon for extremists as well. Part of that is the sense of tribe and attention an otherwise isolated person may receive.

"That’s the way we’re going to be fighting for a while; maybe the rest of this century. Not this particular group," he says. "But what I usually say when I’m doing these things: terrorism just takes a group – a small group – of aggrieved people who have the ability to travel and access to weapons."

White says new media or 'instant media' can also work to amplify the effects of an attack. Which is to say that impact may feel greater, to larger numbers of people, quicker than older communication mediums could historically provide.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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