Stephane Medot knows a thing or two about Belgian prisons. He spent 10 years in them. Arrested for carrying out more than a dozen armed bank robberies, the stocky, bald-headed Medot moved from prison to prison, from one cell of his own to another, until he served out his time.
Along the way, he got a front-row seat in a prison system that has become a breeding ground for violent Muslim extremists. Many of those involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks first did short stints behind bars for relatively petty crimes. And there these wayward young people met proselytizers and appear to have acquired a new, lethal sense of purpose.
A Belgian prison is where Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who helped plan the Paris attacks and who was killed in a police raid in November, met Salah Abdeslam, an alleged Paris attacker who was captured in Brussels this month. Salah's brother Brahim, who blew himself up in Paris, also served time.