Belgium still on high alert as 16 arrested in police raids

RSTV Bureau
BRUSSELS: Special intervention forces sit on top of a roof as they prepare to enter a house in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015.  A major action with heavily armed police is underway in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek amid a manhunt for a suspect of the Paris terror attacks.  Photo - PTI

BRUSSELS: Special intervention forces sit on top of a roof as they prepare to enter a house in Brussels on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. A major action with heavily armed police is underway in the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek amid a manhunt for a suspect of the Paris terror attacks.
Photo – PTI

Amid the highest terror alert in Belgium for a third straight day, the state police detained 16 people in 22 raids across the capital city Brussels. The security establishment, however, is still looking for Salah Abdeslam, who is believed to be among the gunmen involved in the 13/11 Paris terror attack. Belgiam’s Federal Prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt apprised the press that 19 raids were carried out in Molenbeek and other boroughs of Brussels and three raids were carried out in other cities.

Last week, in a near 7 hours raid at a Paris suburb, the crack anti-terror squad had gunned down the mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud. The security forces have since been looking out for Abdelsalem, who still remains on the run.

“We have to stress that no firearms or explosives were discovered … during the raids,” prosecutor Van Der Sypt said adding the investigation will go on.

Hundreds of troops patrolling were seen in the city with authorities relentlessly hunting for one or more suspected militants. The Belgian government kept the capital Brussels 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 on Monday. The subway continues to remain shut down, preventing a return to normal conditions in the city that is also home to the European Union’s main institutions. 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’.

“We fear an attack like in Paris, with several individuals, perhaps in several places,” the Belgium Prime Minister said after chairing a meeting of Belgium’s National Security Council.

“Nobody is pleased with such a situation. Neither are we. But we have to take our responsibility,” PM Michel added.

Meanwhile, the Western leaders stepped up the offensive against the terror syndicate Islamic State (IS), which has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded more than 300, 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.

(With inputs from Agencies)