AFP, November 30, 2022
In Belgium’s port city of Antwerp, residents live in fear of eruptions of violence between the gangs that control Europe’s vast cocaine trade.
The city is the main port of entry into Europe for Latin American cocaine, a business controlled by transnational cartels with an increasing reputation for the most extreme violence.
This week investigators working off a database of criminal messages seized from a cracked communications app once favoured by gangs busted one major smuggling network.
But while illicit cargoes flow through Antwerp there will always be gangsters to fight over the spoils, in an underworld conflict that now spills onto the city’s residential streets.
Steven De Winter, a 47-year-old bank employee from the city’s Deurne district, has counted three waves of violence since 2017, the latest starting in the spring of this year.
A house on his residential block was targeted over two nights by some sort of firework-style explosive projectile that triggered bomb-like explosions in the night.
Several other districts have suffered similar eruptions, including the popular residential area of Wilrijk and even parks near the centre of a city of half a million people.
In five years, the local prosecutor has recorded 200 incidents of drug-related violence, threats, beatings and explosive devices — including sometimes military grenades.
Along with residential Deurne and Wilrijk, the bustling multicultural suburb of Borgerhout has also seen an increase in violence and tension.
Many in Belgium fear that rising criminality in Dutch-speaking Flanders comes from importing the so-called “Mocro-Maffia”, gangs from the Moroccan community reputed to dominate the drugs trade.