As Europe tightens security a week on from the attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead, Belgium’s national crisis centre raised its terrorist alert level to 4 early on Saturday, “signifying a very serious threat for the Brussels region”. Fortunately no untoward incident has taken place, but the the Belgian capital remains locked-down for the second day in a row with police and troops on the streets.
Prime Minister of Belgium Charles Michel said on Saturday that the decision to raise the threat alert to the highest level was taken “based on quite precise information about the risk of an attack like the one that happened in Paris … where several individuals with arms and explosives launch actions, perhaps even in several places at the same time”.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the authorities were looking not just for Belgian-born Salah Abdeslam who managed to slip past French security forces after the carnage in Paris, and his capture would not end the threat on its own.
“We are following the situation minute by minute. There is no reason to hide that. There is a real threat but we are doing everything possible day and night to face up to this situation,” Jambon said.
Heavily armed police and soldiers were patrolling key intersections, subways were closed and many stores shut their doors in Belgium’s capital on Sturday as the government warned of a threat of Paris-style attacks.
The Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s office said on Saturday that several weapons were discovered during the search of the home of one of three people arrested in connection with the Paris attacks, but said no explosives were found.
Authorities across Europe, the Mideast and in Washington are trying to determine how a network of primarily French and Belgian attackers with links to Islamic extremists in Syria plotted and carried out the deadliest violence in France in decades, and how many may still be on the run.
A new potential link emerged Saturday in Turkey, where authorities said they detained a 26-year-old Belgian suspected of connections to Islamic extremists — and possibly to the Paris attacks.
The private Dogan news agency identified him as Ahmet Dahmani and said he is suspected of having explored areas in Paris that were targeted in the attacks.
Brussels was the home of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected organiser of the November 13 Paris attacks, and Belgium has filed charges of “participation in terrorist attacks and participation in the activities of a terrorist organization” against three suspects relating to the Paris attacks.
At least one Paris attacker, Salah Abdeslam, crossed into Belgium the morning after the attacks. A Paris police official and the Paris prosecutor’s office said on Saturday, but they had no firm information on Abdeslam’s whereabouts, including whether he was in the Brussels area.
Heavily armed police and soldiers patrolled Saturday morning at key intersections of the Belgian capital, a city of more than 1 million that is home to the headquarters of the European Union, the NATO alliance and offices of many multinational corporations.
Residents were recommended to avoid gatherings, train stations, airports and commercial districts. Service was halted on the Brussels Metro, as well as on streetcar lines that run underground
Ministers and security officials are due to meet later on Sunday to decide whether to extend the lock-down in Brussels, imposed amid fears jihadists were plotting similar attacks to those in Paris which left 130 people dead.
(With Inputs from the Agencies)