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Security experts, Muslim community react to Belgium attacks

A young girl looks out of the window of a bus after being evacuated from Brussels airport, after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday March 22, 2016. The terror attacks that rocked Brussels on Tuesday morning — injuring four LDS Ch
A young girl looks out of the window of a bus after being evacuated from Brussels airport, after explosions rocked the facility in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday March 22, 2016. The terror attacks that rocked Brussels on Tuesday morning — injuring four LDS Church missionaries — have shaken those watching from afar, and prompted swift reactions and reassurances from political leaders.
Geert Vanden Wijngaert, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Noor Ul-Hasan had the TV on.

First she was overcome with grief. Then she felt fear.

"I'm not afraid of a lot of things," said Ul-Hasan, an interfaith leader in Salt Lake City. "I really only fear God and judgment day. But I'm afraid of what Trump has been sending out there — the rhetoric, the hate."

The terror attacks that rocked Brussels on Tuesday morning — killing dozens of people and injuring four LDS Church missionaries — have shaken those watching from afar, and prompted swift reactions and reassurances from political leaders.

Ul-Hasan said the Muslim community in Utah knows it will be called upon to defend its faith once again.

The justifications for the bombings that killed at least 30 people are "nowhere in my holy book," Ul-Hasan said. "It's not in any way a depiction of my faith. Just because they claim so doesn't mean they are.”

The Islamic State, or ISIS, has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Ryan Vogel, the director of national security studies at Utah Valley University, said that is not surprising.

"ISIS and al-Qaida have both made it pretty clear that this phase in their war is to be directed at foreign targets, and they’ve got a lot of people in Europe already staged to conduct these attacks," Vogel said.

The U.S. is much less vulnerable to these types of attacks than Belgium or other European countries due to tight border control and strong law enforcement, according to Vogel.

But he acknowledged ISIS as a "formidable enemy," not just because of the territory they control but also because of their far-reaching ideology.

"There are more people that identify with the goals and the mission of the organization without actually belonging to it," Vogel said, citing the couple responsible for the San Bernardino attack as an example.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, presidential candidates quickly sent out statements or went on air to talk about the attacks.

On Fox News, Republican front-runner Donald Trump called the attacks “just the beginning.”

“It will get worse and worse because we are lax and we are foolish,” Trump said. “We can’t allow these people, at this point we cannot allow these people to come into our country.”

His rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, renewed his call to close the U.S. border to refugees coming from countries with al-Qaida or ISIS activity.

Cruz also called on the government to empower law enforcement "to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."

Those policies are likely to be more harmful than helpful, according to Vogel, who said Muslim-Americans have been instrumental to law enforcement in identifying suspicious activity.

"If you want fewer incidents of violence in the U.S., then you have to enlist these communities to help, and so far that has been the case," he said, referring to Muslims in the U.S.

"Our values and the way that we incorporated different communities within our national fabric have been what kept them — in a lot of cases — out of extremism," Vogel added. "We wouldn't want to undermine that because of short-term fear."

Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement that the U.S. and Europe need to stand together against enemies trying to "undermine the democratic values that are the foundation of our alliance and our way of life."

Her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, expressed similar sentiments in his statement.

Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich also said the U.S. and its allies must "rededicate ourselves to these values of freedom and human rights" while redoubling efforts to defeat terrorists.

Major Brian Redd, the director of Utah’s State Bureau of Investigation, said there is no credible threat to Utah or the U.S. of a similar attack.

Redd encouraged Utahns to watch the state Department of Public Safety video on how to recognize and report signs of suspicious activity.

“The federal government will say that we need the eyes of state and local law enforcement," he said, "but just the same, state and local law enforcement need the eyes of the citizens.”

Juan Zarate, the national security adviser for combating terrorism under President George W. Bush, said in a talk at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Tuesday that the U.S. and Europe underestimated the reach of ISIS.

Defeating ISIS will be a complex task, requiring the U.S. to find better ways of “enabling, enlisting and empowering” people already on the ground and using more military force, according to Zarate.

But he also warned against overreacting.

“No one’s going to carpet bomb Mosul,” Zarate said. “No one should. We’re not going to try to destroy the economy of Iraq.”

In Utah, Muslims are grappling with how to respond, said Imam Muhammed Mehtar of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake.

Mehtar's advice is the same to each person: Uphold "the best of morals." Present "the best of character." If you see something suspicious, speak out. If anyone picks on you, do not react angrily.

"Islam tells us to even be good and kind to an animal,” he said. “We are told that we cannot even kill one animal in front of another animal to be respectful of it. And here we are talking about killing human life. It is something that is shocking.

"Sometimes we cannot even express ourselves," Mehtar said, after a pause. "We are numb."

In Brussels, too, numbness prevails.

Muriel De Vos, a resident of Brussels who spoke to the Deseret News on Tuesday, described the scene as “surreal.”

"We are the heart of Europe," De Vos said. "We are a multicultural city. People from everywhere live here. The European Commission is here. We live together, but we know something like this could happen."

Like many other residents, De Vos didn't find out about the explosions until she got to work Tuesday morning.

All day, she and her co-workers have been trying to go about their lives as usual, she said. Tomorrow, they will do the same.

“We have to live our lives, you know?” De Vos said. “If we don’t, they win.”

Email: dchen@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DaphneChen_