Terror-tarnished Molenbeek looks to future

Terror-tarnished Molenbeek looks to future
By Damon EmblingAissa Boukanoun
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As Salah Abdeslam is jailed, the Brussels district where he was captured focuses on cutting crime and unemployment


It's been dubbed by some as the 'Jihadi capital of Europe.' Now Molenbeek, one of the most deprived areas of Brussels and where Salah Abdeslam was captured, is brushing off its terror-tarnished reputation by looking to the future.

At its heart, the 'MolenGeek' project, which is helping young people get digital and entrepreneurship skills.

"The young people of Molenbeek, I see them more as added value rather than a problem in our society," said Ibrahim Ouassari, Founder of MolenGeek.

"I really see them as a solution, as talents for us, they're potential for our society. I see them like that, rather than a problem as presented by some media."

The digital work has made such an impact that the likes of Google and Samsung have backed it.

More widely, Molenbeek's mayor says the district has huge potential.

"For us, education is fundamental, important efforts are being made," commented Françoise Schepmans.

"We are doing many activities here in all the neighborhoods of Molenbeek, where people, citizens meet. I'm convinced that we have cultural and sporting potential, there are many young people in Molenbeek who are recognised sportspeople."

As well as being associated with extremism, Molenbeek has also long had issues with crime and unemployment.

British student Sam Wilkinson lives near the area.

He said: "When I first started coming to Molenbeek, I was slightly nervous, because I had heard the reputation and what happened before. But since coming here every day, I have never had any problems, everyone has been really nice, helpful and friendly."

Salah Abdeslam and a co-accused were sentenced to 20 years in prison on Monday for trying to kill police during a shootout in Brussels in 2016.

Abdeslam is in a French prison awaiting trial for his role in the Islamic State attacks in Paris in November 2015, in which 130 people were killed.

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