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When It Comes To Radicalization In Belgium, Turks and Moroccans Are Different


Almost two weeks after the terrorist attacks in Brussels, authorities are trying to piece together why three Belgian citizens decided to attack at home. They've identified a handful of suspects and so far, they're all Belgians of Moroccan descent.


They're young men who were born in Brussels in the 1990s. Their parents and grandparents came decades earlier. Turkish immigrants arrived around the same time, but don't seem to have the same problems with radicalization.

CORNISH: The two communities have very different approaches to life in Belgium, and those differences provide at least a partial explanation as to why one group of young men is joining ISIS and the others are not. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports from Brussels.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: More than 500 Belgians have left for Syria since 2012 and most of them, according to Belgian and U.S. officials, have been of Moroccan descent. To understand why, meet Soufiane Sacek. He was at a weekly outdoor market in the Schaerbeek neighborhood in Brussels just as the vendors were packing up.

SOUFIANE SACEK: (Foreign language spoken).

TEMPLE-RASTON: Soufiane Sacek is 30, which makes him a little older than the suicide bombers who attacked the Brussels airport and metro on March 22. But they all share a similar life story.

Sacek dropped out of school in his teens, and has had trouble getting an apartment and finding a job ever since. He is quick to say that he didn't go to prison, though the attackers did. He knows lots of people in Brussels just like them. And since the attacks, he says, all Muslims are suspect.

SACEK: (Foreign language spoken).

TEMPLE-RASTON: He says he thinks that the terrorists will burn in hell, but he understands why they did it. They are all victims of something he calls placeism.

SACEK: (Foreign language spoken).

TEMPLE-RASTON: "Every group in Belgium has its place," he says. And the place reserved for people like him, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, is a place at the bottom.

Bayram Honazli is 26, and we stopped him on a street corner. He was wearing a tracksuit and mousse in his hair. He also left school as a teenager and now works as a street cleaner for the city of Brussels.

BAYRAM HONAZLI: (Foreign language spoken).

TEMPLE-RASTON: He says the employment situation here in Belgium is better than in France, and he has lots of friends who have started their own businesses.

HONAZLI: (Foreign language spoken).

TEMPLE-RASTON: And those friends, he says, are Belgian Turks just like him. Connections in the community, he said, helped get them started. He said he'd like to be an entrepreneur, too.

Business leaders say those two stories offer insight into why the Moroccan community here has seen scores of young men leave for Syria and the Turkish community hasn't even reported one. Moroccans feel excluded from opportunity in Belgium, and ISIS promises them a better life in Syria and Iraq.

TAOUFIK AMZILE: The job market is structurally discriminating in Belgium.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Taoufik Amzile is an entrepreneur who leads a Muslim business organization in Brussels. And he says the discrimination falls disproportionately on Belgian-Moroccans, whose youth unemployment can be as high as 40 percent. That discrimination, he says, does not just apply to high school dropouts.

AMZILE: So to give you an example, if you are from Moroccan backgrounds and you have an MBA and you have language skills, for example, you still have less chance to get a job in comparison with the native guy.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Belgian Turks, he says, are somewhat more insulated because when they don't get a job they think they're qualified for, they turn to entrepreneurs in their own communities for help.

SEVAL KAYMAN: (Speaking French).

TEMPLE-RASTON: Seval Kayman works at a Belgian-Turkish association called Fedactio. And she agrees that Turkish youth probably experience less discrimination than Moroccans do.

KAYMAN: (Speaking French).

TEMPLE-RASTON: She says Moroccans have told her they just don't have that kind of support, which suggests that the Belgian-Moroccan flow to ISIS may be more about frustration and rage than religion. Ibrahim Ouassari is trying to address that opportunity gap. He's the head of a youth project called Molengeek.

IBRAHIM OUASSARI: Molengeek is not really something just for Moroccan community. It's for everybody. It's really if you have some idea, innovative idea, you're welcome for work with us.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Ouassari lives in Molenbeek. And while he didn't know any of the Belgian bombers, he said he lived so close to the accused Paris attacker, who will soon be extradited to France, that they used to exchange waves in the morning.

Ouassari's story begins much like those of the two men we met in Schaerbeek. He dropped out of school as a teenager, but then started doing social work. And at 20, he bought a computer.

OUASSARI: I discovered a new world, a new world of opportunity because when you're an entrepreneur, you sell services, you sell products. You don't sell yourself like an employee.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Now he's hoping to introduce that world to a new generation of kids in Molenbeek. If it works, he says, the community will come to be known for its creative ideas rather than its links to terrorism. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.