Local cops: Security ramped up after Belgium attacks

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Local police are on high alert Tuesday in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Belgium that killed nearly three dozen and injured scores.

As police gather intelligence and map out security plans, Metro Detroiters with families in Belgium are concerned, but unable to phone their relatives because cell towers near Brussels have been shut off.

Meanwhile, local Muslim groups denounced the attacks for which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, while also criticizing what they said are bigoted statements Tuesday by presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.

A series of bombs exploded in a Brussels subway station and in Brussels Airport at about 3 a.m. Detroit time. Belgian media is reporting at least 130 people were wounded.

The attacks prompted local police officials into action.

“We’ve already gotten bulletins from Homeland Security,” Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said, adding security has been tightened.

“We have a strong presence at critical facilities and infrastructures, such as banks, post offices, government buildings and water intakes,” Haddad said. “We’re also watching soft targets, such as malls, schools, places of worship, modes of transportation.”

Bob Hison, president of the Belgian American Association in St. Clair Shores, said local Belgian-Americans have been concerned for more than a week.

“People who were thinking of visiting their relatives have canceled their plans because of the alerts that have been going on,” Hison said. “In the past week, they captured the person who may have been involved in the Paris terror attack (in November).

“This morning, we have a lot of people who are worried about their relatives over there. And all the cell towers have been turned off in the area, so nobody can get a hold of their families. Hopefully that will pass and people can check in on their families.

“What a tragedy this is.”

Within hours of the attacks, a report was generated by the Detroit Police Counterterrorism Threat Analysis Team, Police Chief James Craig said.

“Whenever there’s an attack like this, we ramp up in terms of getting as much intelligence as possible,” he said. “We were in a heightened state even before Brussels, and we should always be in a constant state of preparedness. We have a fairly good machine in place that’s both proactive and reactive.”

Craig said he established the Counterterrorism Threat Analysis Team about a month-and-a-half ago.

“We model it after what they do in New York, which has one of the strongest teams in place. Right now, we’re analyzing what happened in Belgium, and how to best respond here in Detroit.”

Craig added there are no known threats to either Detroit or other U.S. cities. “We’re just staying up on the intelligence so we can be prepared,” he said.

While Craig said there are no known immediate threats, U.S. intelligence officials have warned they expect an attack by Islamic extremists this year.

Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned Congress last month that Islamic State extremists posing as refugees “will probably attempt to ... direct attacks on the U.S. homeland in 2016.”

In testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said accepting Syrian refugees escaping their country’s civil war could pose a security threat, adding security has been stepped up.

On Tuesday, Trump repeated his concerns about bringing more Muslim refugees into the United States.

“Frankly, we’re having problems with the Muslims,” the Republican frontrunner told Fox Business Network.

“These attacks are not done by Swedish people. That I can tell you. We have to be smart. We have to look at the mosques and study what’s going on. There is a sick problem going on.”

Trump also told CBS This Morning: “I would be extremely careful about people from the Middle East coming into our country. We should be vigilant at our borders.”

Fellow presidential candidate Cruz called for a heavy law enforcement presence in neighborhoods with a large Muslim population.

“For years, the west has tried to deny this enemy exists out of a combination of political correctness and fear,” Cruz wrote of radical Muslims on his Facebook page. “We can no longer afford either.

“We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized,” Cruz wrote.

Dawud Walid, director of CAIR Michigan, criticized the statements by Trump and Cruz.

“It’s unfortunate that they are capitalizing on the tragedy in Belgium by furthering their bigoted stances against Muslims,” he said. “The American Muslim community has nothing to do with what took place in Belgium as far as we know.

“And even if it turns out there was an individual or two involved, that would not warrant mass surveillance and taking away the civil liberties of 7 million American citizens who are Muslim.”

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called for strong measures to prevent an attack in the United States.

“We cannot expect to successfully degrade and destroy an enemy with global reach just by targeting them with airstrikes in the Middle East,” she said in a videotaped message posted on YouTube. “We need to do more, especially to protect the home front.”

Miller called on Congress to pass the Border Security First Act, which passed last year out the Homeland Security Committee. The bill focuses on strengthening the southern borders.

“We also need to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of our entire visa program,” Miller said. “Earlier this year, Congress passed, and the president signed into law, my Visa Waiver Program legislation, which will help prevent terrorists with Western passports from entering the U.S. However, we now need to look at the visa program in its entirety, including visa overstays, fiancé visas, and tourist visas.

“It is unacceptable to delay these critical initiatives simply because it is an election year. Our principal responsibility is to provide for the security of our country and our citizens.”

The Metro Detroit Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA condemned the attacks.

“This wasn’t just an attack on Brussels, it was an attack on humanity itself,” said the organization’s president, Mansoor Qureshi. “There is no basis for these barbaric actions in Islam, and we must all come together to promote peace and justice in our world.”

The group is to host a symposium at Henry Ford College on Wednesday that will “provide a glimpse into the life and character of the Prophet of Islam and dispel any myths and false narratives perpetuated in society by both Muslims and Non-Muslims.”

The group will also offer prayers and condolences for the victims of the Brussels attack, Qureshi said.

At Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the attacks in Belgium haven’t had a major impact on flights, airport spokesman Michael Conway said.

“Airlines are running their normal schedules,” he said in an email to The Detroit News. “Our hearts go out to those impacted by the tragic events in Brussels, including families, friends of victims as well as the public safety personnel responding to these attacks.

“The safety and security of our customers and employees is the airport authority’s No. 1 priority; and working closely and cooperatively with our federal transportation security partners, our public safety team continues to monitor the situation in Europe.

“DTW has no non-stop flights to Brussels, and we are not aware of any direct impacts from this situation on flights out of Detroit Metro Airport, however passengers should check with their airline if they have any questions regarding their travel plans.”

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