Brussels on edge as Belgian security forces hunt Isis (Islamic State) militants

November 24, 2015 3:46 am

Belgian security forces were last night still hunting down suspected
(Islamic State) militants after making more than a dozen arrests in
a series of raids yesterday, with sweeping security measures set to
stay in place in the capital as the major suspect from the Paris attacks
remained at large.
Prosecutors said 16 people had been arrested
in 22 house raids amid fears allies of Isis may be planning a similar
attack in Brussels. Police opened fire at after a vehicle sped at them.
Belgian
officials decided yesterday to extend a partial lockdown of the city
through to today, keeping the capital on its maximum alert
level.
The Metro and schools will be shut.
Prime Minister
Charles Michel said authorities had received additional information that
led to his decision to enforce the extraordinary measures.

“We fear an attack like the attack in Paris … Meaning
several individuals conducting an attack in Brussels, possibly in
several places at the same time.”
The highly unusual measures in
the Belgian capital underscore the fear gripping a little more
than a week after the co-ordinated assaults in Paris, which killed 130
people and injured more than 350 and brought into focus Isis’ ability to
strike the West directly.
Not since Boston came to a
near-standstill after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 has the life
of a major Western city been brought to a halt this way by the fear of
terrorism.




The possibility that one or more of the Paris attackers may
have arrived among the waves of refugees from the Middle East has
intensified debate in the United States as well as Europe over their
welcome in the West.
Belgian authorities say they have acted in
response to a plot that included shopping centres and public transport
as soft targets for a possible large-scale attack. The Government has
warned residents to avoid crowded locations.
As raids were
carried out, streets were shut down in central Brussels, and police
urged residents not to post details of the operations on social media.
Nineteen raids were carried out in the Brussels area and three more in
Charleroi, about 80km south.
The Grand Place, the central square
of Brussels, was evacuated because of a police operation. Guests in
nearby hotels were told to stay indoors.
Justice Minister Koen
Geens apologised for the shutdown of the subway system, which continues
as authorities extend their hunt for suspects.
“We don’t want to paralyse Brussels economically, but we need time to arrange all this,” Geens said.
Belgian
officials are casting a wide net for those involved in the Paris
attacks and others who may be preparing to strike in .
A primary target is Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French national who is the subject of a manhunt across Europe.
Abdeslam,
who was identified as one of at least nine suspected attackers, is
believed to have made his way to Belgium after the attacks.
He
was not among those arrested yesterday, Belgian prosecutors said. In
recent days, police raids in Molenbeek, the largely immigrant area of
Brussels that several of the Paris attackers called home, and in other
neighbourhoods had uncovered explosives and weapons, but neither was
recovered yesterday, prosecutors said.
During a raid near a snack
bar in Molenbeek, however, police fired two shots after a car rushed at
them. It escaped but was later stopped and the wounded driver was
arrested.
Most of the identified attackers are French and Belgian
nationals and it is believed they became radicalised in Europe. Some
are known to have travelled to Syria to fight with Isis.
Belgian
Interior Minister Jan Jambon told Flemish national television that
authorities still sought members of the suspected militant cell linked
to a Brussels plot or their accomplices.
“It involves several suspects, and that is why we have put in place such exceptional measures,” Jambon said.
The
Government faces a difficult task in managing what it sees as an acute
threat while also minimising the disruption and anxiety caused by
security measures.
“We are following the situation minute by minute,” Jambon said.
“There is a real threat, but we are doing everything possible day and night to face up to this situation.”

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