Authorities in Brussels have closed a clandestine Quranic school in Molenbeek, the district in the heart of the Belgian capital that spawned the Islamic State cell responsible for launching the deadly terror attacks in Brussels and Paris. Police were alerted to the existence of the school with shuttered windows and locked doors on all but one side by a tip off from a concerned neighbour.
The 38 children, aged between three and eight years old, had been registered as being home schooled but were in fact being taught in the secret Quranic centre that comprised two classrooms on the ground floor, as well as two rooms in the attic for the smaller children. The rear workshop was transformed into a dining hall and playground.
The Belgian news outlet sudinfo.be reported that Mayor Françoise Schepmans closed the school on the grounds that it had not followed proper planning regulations. However, the Molenbeek mayor heralded the closure as another step in the district's fight against extremism.
"This school is clearly a Quranic school. Children are placed there all day. It is a ritual question, the inscriptions are in Arabic and you feel that this is a partisan place," he was quoted as saying.
Molenbeek gained overnight infamy in the wake of the November's Paris attacks that left 130 dead. Attacks in January in Brussels were also found to have originated from the same area of the Belgian capital, where a super-cell of mostly Belgian-born Islamic State members had been found to have staged the attacks.
Salah Abdeslam, who was linked to both the Brussels and Paris attacks, was able to hide in Molenbeek throughout a four-month international manhunt. French and Belgian authorities said the jihadi hid among a network of family and friends in the district. Salah and Brahim Abdeslam, 26 and 31 respectively, had run a pub in Molenbeek before they converted to radical Islam.