The attacks on the Belgian capital of Brussels this morning, which killed dozens and wounded more than 200, were obviously meant to strike terror into the hearts of free people everywhere by suggesting that they could be targeted next. But we must not succumb to fear. The civilized world must rally to Belgium's aid, unite against those who carried out these reprehensible acts and send a clear message that we won't tolerate terrorism.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Brussels' main international airport and a popular subway station. Indeed, they bear hallmarks of the coordinated attacks the group carried out in Paris last year, which killed 130 people at several public locations, including a music venue and several eateries. Some of the Paris attackers were traced back to terrorist networks in Brussels, and Belgian authorities have known since at least then their country was vulnerable. Last week, the sole surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was apprehended in Brussels.
Still, the bombings came as a shock to many, as doubtless the perpetrators intended. By attacking Brussels, where the headquarters of the European Union is located, the terrorists proclaim they mean to make war not only on Belgium but on all of Europe and the West.
Amateur video from the airport attack in Brussels showed streams of frightened passengers fleeing the site where two explosions went off in quick succession at around 8 a.m. Brussels time. Behind them clouds of smoke could be seen belching from the shattered windows of a terminal building. An hour and 15 minutes later another explosion rocked the Maelbeek metro station in the city's crowded downtown, filling the platforms with smoke as dazed morning rush hour commuters streamed out into the streets. Belgian authorities initially reported that more than 30 people had been killed and many more wounded at the two locations.
President Obama was right to strongly condemn the Brussels attackers in the preface to his speech in Havana this morning. He also appealed to the Cuban people to demand from their own leaders the same basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association and religion that the terrorists who attacked Brussels would deny to those living in territories they control. The implied comparison was that despotism takes many forms and they are all less desirable than democracy.
World leaders and senior officials quickly joined Mr. Obama in condemning the Brussels attacks and expressed condolences for the victims. French President Francois Hollande called the attack a blow against Europe as a whole, and the mayor of Paris said the Eiffel Tower would be lit up in the colors of the Belgian flag. British Prime Minister David Cameron posted on Twitter "I am shocked and concerned by the events in Brussels. We will do everything we can to help." And Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a statement that the attacks "show once more that terrorism knows no borders and threatens people all over the world." Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff tweeted simply: "Terrorists will never win."
It's been evident for some time that the U.S. needs to step up its game as a leader of the anti-ISIS coalition on both the military and diplomatic fronts. It's a responsibility we cannot avoid, nor can we afford to wait until we are attacked at home before we act. ISIS must be convinced we will never sacrifice our principles or our values to appease them. As Paris and now Brussels have stood strong despite ISIS' cowardly tactics, so should we.