Teachers of Bilal Hadfi had warned Belgian education authorities of Hadfi’s radicalization and danger back in April, but despite being on a list of suspects compiled by Belgium’s anti-terror watchdog, the teachers’ warning was not passed on to police. During the November 13 Paris attacks, Bilal Hadfi blew himself up outside the French national stadium in Paris.
As reported by the New York Times on December 26, Chris Pijpen, Bilal Hadfi’s school principal at the Annessens-Funck school, sent an email on April 27 to Belgian education official Charles Huygens alerting him of Bilal’s dangerous change of behavior. “Mr. Huygens did not alert the police.”
According to Belgian law, schools and teachers are required to report suspicious terrorist behavior to authorities. As in Bilal Hadfi’s case, the warning should have gone from teachers to school principal Pijpen to school official Huygen and then on to the police.
Mr. Pijpen commented that passing on the teachers’ report about Hadfi directly to the police would have violated the standard protocol of how schools are supposed to communicate with authorities. When talking to the New York Times, Mr. Pijpen stated that he never received a reply email and that he did not understand why Mr. Huygens did not follow up on the teachers’ warnings:
“I expected that something would happen, some further action, at least someone from the administration that would come down to our school, or the police. I was amazed that nothing happened. This was already after Charlie Hebdo and Verviers. You would expect some reaction. But then again, we’ve been asking for years for more support at our school, or the hiring of specialists, but never got any.”
The teachers’ warning about Bilal Hadfi — that the 20-year-old turned from soccer and girls to hanging out with radical friends, praising the Charlie Hebdo attack, changing his name to Abu Moudjahid al-Belgiki, posing with a jihadist flag on his Facebook page, and going to Syria — is now being investigated by Belgian officials.
“The Belgian authorities are questioning staff at a Brussels school attended by one of the Paris attackers whose warnings that he had become worryingly radicalised were missed,” press reports stated on Saturday.
As to why 20-year-old Bilal Hadfi turned to radicalization, his teachers’ warning back in February included the fact that their student was vulnerable to a terrorist group’s extremism. Hadfi, who was living with his mother and two brothers in the Neder-over-Heembeek section of Brussels, was having difficulties dealing with his father’s death a few years earlier and was having troubles at home.
With his home life left empty and in disarray, Bilal Hadfi had to belong to something, his teachers recognized.