Arriving in Brussels, Belgium for first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d just left Paris, and knew that many of the terrorists in the Paris attacks were from here. I was interested to find out why Belgium was such a hot spot for terrorists, what the police and intelligence services were doing about this problem, and what steps we could follow to help stop terrorism here in Europe.

Driving through Brussels, you can see the lower part of the city—dirt poor and full of Middle Eastern and African men. A mix of young and old litter the streets, with many sleeping in doorways and in underground passages. These are most likely refugees. What really surprised me, though: Most of those sleeping in the streets and beggars were women and children. Not many were young men. Some areas were totally dominated by these people; I actually felt alien, almost like I was back in Mogadishu.

At one point, every shop and market we passed was run and supported by those within that ethnic group. It looked just like the Middle East at night—cafes and bars were filled with men talking, holding hands, smoking, and drinking coffee. It did not feel like mainland Europe to me, but more like Iraq. Groups with known ties to terrorism fill the streets with impunity—a big problem for the Belgian security services and one that promises to continue to generate problems for years to come. There is an ongoing gang war taking place in these streets—turf wars between Africans and Middle Easterners. When walking through Brussels, depending on the area, you might be surrounded by African or Middle Eastern ethnic groups. Wherever you are, there is an overwhelming presence of both ethnic groups.

I woke up the next morning, had a coffee, then headed out to the city center. I got in a taxi and to my surprise, he was American. We got talking about the security situation here, and he said the following:

“Brussels is not safe at this time. You only have to look at the news to see that there are a lot of problems here, more so now with these terrorists. But I am not worried about an attack here. I know that they only use this place as a planning area, and besides, they still need a place to live, right? They are not stupid enough to attack here.”

In the city center, we were greeted with a heavy presence of security around the main attractions—a mix of both military and police. It reminds me of Paris a lot. There were plenty of cops around—a big show of force in light of what just happened. It was still busy with tourism, so I don’t think that the attacks in Paris had turned people away from here. Still, people seem wary. They have actually dropped the threat level here down one level. I can imagine that, just after the attacks occurred, this place must have been on lockdown. One of my contacts here said, “Brussels was quiet. It’s usually busier, and during the week after the Paris attacks, it was a ghost town. This was due to the metro and train services being shut down temporarily. The situation here is getting better. We must do more now that the eyes of the world are on us.”

News Roundup special: Terror in Brussels, bumbling law enforcement, and Europe's uncertain future

Read Next: News Roundup special: Terror in Brussels, bumbling law enforcement, and Europe's uncertain future

While I felt safe in the city center, I decided to make my way to Molenbeek. You may have heard of this place on the news. One of the Paris attackers was from this area, and people around Brussels know it as a hot spot for terrorists. Still, I put on my walking boots, grabbed my knife, and kissed my ass goodbye as I went on a one-man patrol in Molenbeek. It was about 0830. I quickly noticed that the closer I got to Molenbeek, the worse things looked. There was trash all over the ground and graffiti on the walls. As I crossed the canal, I saw the sign for the town. My aim had been to get to the mosque. For those who have never been, this place is a nightmare to navigate through. As I walked up the street, I could see Islamic writing on the shops and the walls. Middle Eastern-looking men and women walked the streets. I got a few looks from some dudes manning a street corner. They looked young. Islamic gang members maybe. It came as no great shock to me that this whole area was full of Middle Easterners, and I did not see too many African ethnic groups around. This could go back to what my Belgian friends were saying about gang wars.

I know when I was there it was quiet, and I had this gut feeling that was telling me I wasn’t welcome in the area. I stopped in a local shop to get some water and smokes. The shopkeeper looked at me funny. I placed my stuff on the counter. He didn’t say much, but I could sense his attitude, which pissed me right off. I got my shit and left. It didn’t take long before I ended up good and lost in this shit hole. The more lost I got, the more Islamic this place got. School kids ran around on their way to school, their mother just behind them wearing a hijab. Even the litter pickers in the area were from the Middle East. I walked for a good 40 minutes, then I found the police station in the area. It was well manned, I can say that. From there, I found my way out.

Even such a brief walk was informative; I feel I now better understand why this area is such a hotbed for Islamic extremism—the established Islamic communities, ones without any attempts made at assimilation, make for an ideal breeding ground. They have everything—parks, shops, schools, mosques, garages, doctors, vets, cleaners, landlords, butchers, all of them from the Middle East, all of them Islamic. They are not altering their lives when they move here, they’re merely changing location. To them, this is the same as Bagdad, just colder, but they also get more money. Plus, they almost certainly know someone in the area who can hook them up with a house, food, water, money, and a job. This is the best place for them to come; they don’t get hassled by angry white men—the cops stay away. So what’s not to like if you are a jihadi? Come here, hook up with your brothers, and plan your terror shit. No one will lift a finger.

Plus, for these jihadis, the country’s open borders mean they can get as far as Poland, France, or Germany without any hassle, which is ideal for their efforts. They use Belgium as an FOB—a staging area. It’s located in the perfect location, central for all of their European operations. From here, they can reach a number of countries with a low risk of their operations being compromised. It’s a free-for-all here. They can run and hide all over Europe, so even if their cover is blown, it’s going to be a damn difficult task to find them.