Belgium rounding up terror suspects
BRUSSELS - Belgian prosecutors announced today that police had detained 16 people in 22 raids but that Paris fugitive Salah Abdeslam was not among them. Despite the raids, authorities maintained their highest terror alert in the capital for a third straight day.
- Belgian prosecutors announced today that police had detained 16 people in 22 raids but that Paris fugitive Salah Abdeslam was not among them. Despite the raids, authorities maintained their highest terror alert in the capital for a third straight day.
Federal prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said 19 raids were carried out in Molenbeek and other boroughs of Brussels and three raids were carried out in other cities.
"We have to stress that no firearms or explosives were discovered . . . during the raids," Van Der Sypt said. "Certain elements in the investigation made yesterday's intervention necessary. The investigation will in any case be relentlessly continued."
One of those detained was injured when a car he was in tried to ram police during an attempted getaway, Van Der Sypt said.
The raids capped a tense day with hundreds of troops patrolling and authorities hunting for one or more suspected militants, the Belgian government chose yesterday to keep the capital on the highest state of alert into the start of the workweek to prevent a Paris-style attack.
Citing a "serious and imminent" threat, Prime Minister Charles Michel announced that schools and universities in Brussels will be closed today, with the subway remaining shut down, preventing a return to normal in the city that is also home to the European Union's main institutions.
"We fear an attack like in Paris, with several individuals, perhaps in several places," Michel said after chairing a meeting of Belgium's National Security Council.
While Brussels was kept on the highest of four alert levels, the rest of the country remains on a Level 3 alert, meaning an attack is "possible and likely."
"Nobody is pleased with such a situation. Neither are we. But we have to take our responsibility," Michel said.
Western leaders stepped up the rhetoric against the Islamic State group, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more; the suicide bombings in Beirut that killed 43 people and injured more than 200; and the downing of the Russian jetliner carrying 224 people in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. All happened within the past month.
"We will not accept the idea that terrorist assaults on restaurants and theaters and hotels are the new normal, or that we are powerless to stop them," President Obama said in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said ISIS must be destroyed at all costs. "We must annihilate Islamic State worldwide . . . and we must destroy Islamic State on its own territory," Le Drian said. "That's the only possible direction."
The decision to put Brussels on the highest alert came early Saturday as authorities frantically searched for Abdeslam, who is believed to have played a key role in the Nov. 13 attacks in France. He is known to have crossed into Belgium the day after the attacks.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon warned that the threat wouldn't necessarily disappear if Abdeslam was found, because they are looking for several people in connection with a possible planned attack in Brussels.
"The terror threat is wider than just that person," Jambon said. "We are looking at several things. That is why we are making the big show of power and following everything up by the minute. It's of no use to hide this."
Several of the Paris attackers had lived in Brussels, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the plot's orchestrator who was killed Wednesday in a standoff with French police.
Abdeslam is known to have crossed into Belgium on Nov. 14. His brother, Mohamed Abdeslam, went on Belgian TV and urged him to surrender, saying he would rather see him "in prison than in a cemetery."
Authorities in Turkey said Saturday that a 26-year-old Belgian citizen suspected of being linked to Islamic extremists and possibly to the Paris attacks had been detained in the coastal city of Antalya.
France has intensified its aerial bombing in Syria, and Le Drian said the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which has been sent to the Mediterranean to help combat ISIS terrorists in Syria, will be "operational" today and "ready to act."