Belgian alarm over spread of Saudi-backed hardline Islam

Brussels airport was shut for more than a month after the bomb blasts in main terminal (AFP Photo/JOHN THYS)

Brussels (AFP) - Belgium's terror monitoring centre has expressed concerns about the spread of Saudi- and Gulf-backed fundamentalist Islam in the country's mosques, according to an official report published in local media Wednesday.

The OCAM national crisis centre said the austere Sunni doctrine of Wahhabism preached in an increasing number of Belgian mosques was getting financial support from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, according to the report quoted in Flemish-language daily De Standaard.

Belgium has been on high alert since three suicide bombers attacked Zaventem Airport and the Brussels metro system in March 2016, killing 32 people.

"We believe that a growing number of mosques and Islamic centres in Belgium, like the rest of Europe, are under the influence of Wahhabism, the Salafist missionary apparatus," the centre said.

"We also note that the imams of these mosques are regularly being 'salafised' or are already 'salafised'," it added.

Saudi Arabia is the cradle of Wahhabism, which has been accused of inspiring extremist ideologies across the Muslim world.

The Belgian official report said Saudi authorities had set up a "generous" bursary scheme for Muslim students from other countries.

"They are strongly encouraged to become imams in their Belgian mosques or be active in proselytising in Belgium or more widely in French-speaking or Dutch-speaking areas," it said, as cited by De Standaard daily.

"The Saudi authorities and the Wahhabist establishment have clearly settled on this method to reinforce the influence of the doctrine and practice of Wahhabism in Muslim communities in Europe," it said.

Belgium has a long-running problem with radicalisation, producing what officials say is the highest number of jihadists going to fight in Syria and Iraq in proportion to its population of any EU country.

Police arrested 11 people in house raids in Brussels on Wednesday in connection with jihadists returning from Syria, prosecutors said.

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