Belgian authorities arrest 16 terrorism suspects in Brussels raids
23 November 2015, 08:11
Brussels - Belgian police arrested 16 terrorism suspects
in a major security sweep across Brussels, prosecutors said early on Monday.
The massive operation saw 19 raids carried out late on Sunday across Brussels,
plus three search warrants carried out in the city of Charleroi. A judge was to
decide later on Monday if the suspects can be held.
No weapons or explosives were found in the police sweep.
Brussels has been under the highest terrorism alert since Saturday.
In the city's Molenbeek district, officers fired on a car that drove at police.
The wounded driver fled but was later captured, though authorities were still
investigating whether the incident was terrorism-related.
Multiple suspects connected to the November 13 attacks in Paris, where 130
people were killed and 352 wounded, had ties to Brussels.
Suspected ringleader not found
Salah Abdeslam, brother of one of the Paris suicide
bombers, was not among the suspects arrested in the overnight raids, said Eric
Van der Sijpt, spokesperson for Belgian state prosecutors. The suspected
ringleader of the Paris attacks, he has been the target of a manhunt by Belgian
police since shortly after the co-ordinated shootings and bombings at several
locations in the French capital.
Abdeslam, who was believed to have been living in the Molenbeek district, is
suspected of involvement in the Paris attacks before fleeing the Belgian
Brussels remained on the highest terrorism alert following a decision by the
Belgian national security council. The current status, Level 4, means there is
a "serious and immediate" risk in the Belgian capital.
"We're worried about a similar attack like the one in Paris," Belgian
Prime Minister Charles Michel said earlier.
The government's goal is to return the situation to normal as soon as possible,
and security authorities were to meet on Monday afternoon to "reassess the
situation," he said.
Until then, the Brussels underground was not operating, and schools and
universities remained shuttered. Citizens were advised to avoid high-traffic
areas including shopping centres, stadiums and train stations.
‘The danger is real’
The rest of Belgium was at security threat Level 3, which means an attack is
"possible and likely."
No information was released about specific threats.
Workers at a broadcasting company near Brussels had to evacuate their offices
after a bomb threat, which proved to be false, police said.
"This danger is real," Bernard Clerfayt, mayor of the district of
Schaerbeek, told broadcaster RTBF. "We have learnt that two terrorists are
in Brussels territory and could commit dangerous acts."
The security alert was imposed early on Saturday. Belgian media reported that
security procedures were at unprecedented levels.
It remains to be seen how the heightened security will operate on a workday. Brussels is home to 1 million people and the headquarters of both the European Union and the Nato military alliance.
The EU said planned ministerial meetings on Monday would continue, though
non-essential personnel were allowed to stay at home.
Michel said decisions would have to be made day by day.
"We're not happy with the situation, but we have to take
responsibility," he said as he called for calm.
Buses, trams and trains continued to provide service in Brussels, with
authorities intensifying passenger checks.
Extra security was reported at Belgian airports and train stations.
Despite the presence of military in Brussels streets, most people remained
"Life goes on," said the owner of a newspaper kiosk, calling the
security measures excessive.
Alain Berlinblau, a member of the inner city's retail association, said:
"To close on Saturday is a catastrophe for our business."
Later on Sunday, bars and cafes in central Brussels were asked to close on
"We have to do it for the security of our customers," waitress
Lourdes Taipe said.