An intern for the Brussels Federal Police was dismissed two days into his internship. The reason for his dismissal was strange behavior that quickly brought much attention to him. What makes the case interesting is both how polarized the two sides of the story are, how best to ascertain true allegiance and how we can assess suspicious indicators as they reveal themselves.
Bilal El Baze, a Belgium of Moroccan origin, was an intern with the ICT. Colleagues soon noticed that he was taking photographs of his workplace (Police Headquarters), asking questions about the security of his work area, asking about the disposition of weapons in the building and trying to gain access to Police Commissioner Catherine De Bolle’s office saying that he wanted to take a picture with her. Officials also claim that Bilal’s Facebook page showed that he supports the Islamic State. During his short time training in the IT Department, Bilal had access to personal data of liaison officers in sensitive positions, officers tasked with working terrorist case files.
The Public Prosecutor was notified about the situation but has not ordered a separate investigation into the matter, claiming that the likelihood of sensitive information having been stolen is low. Police spokesperson Agnès Reis stated she believes the event was exaggerated but that nonetheless screening procedures would be reevaluated.
A representative for the Police Union fears that “There are too many holes in the cheese. This is a very dangerous condition.” He wonders how it was possible to recruit someone like Bilal and give him access to databases.
While the Federal Police state that they have no proof that Bilal copied computer files but others have noted that likewise, they have no proof he did not.
In his defense, Bilal claims that the notion that he is a terrorist is absurd, a ‘bad joke.’ Bilal says that he did not steal any of the personal data to which he had access during his training. “They want to pass me off as an extremist and they are drawing many false conclusions. I think it is racism.”
“They can study my Facebook page and will find nothing that links me to the Islamic State. Simply because no link exists. Posting a verse from the Quran is different than being a fan of I.S. As a young Muslim, I obviously have my ideas about what is happening in the world and how we ought to interpret the Quran, but I condemn all forms of violence.”
“It’s true that from my first day as an intern, I strolled around through the buildings alone. It was boredom. But interest, also. I did ask an agent why she was armed. Out of curiosity, to learn something. An intern motivated to ask questions, actually.”
So, Bilal claims he was an innocent intern making inquiries that reflected his interest in the workings of the Police. His detractors claim he could be a terrorist. We may never know which version is true. But this story certainly begs the question how could the recruitment process have unearthed his stance on Islam and his real allegiances before he was exposed to sensitive information? In what way could the suspicion indicators in Bilal’s behavior been assessed to determine whether or not he was just a goofy, enthusiastic young intern or, a too obvious operative seeking to either gain a foothold or test the security of the police system?