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Belgium Arrests 16 Suspects, France Intensifies Syria Strikes

Belgium Arrests 16 Suspects,  France Intensifies Syria StrikesBelgium Arrests 16 Suspects,  France Intensifies Syria Strikes

Belgian prosecutors announced early Monday 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, AP reported.

“We have to stress that no firearms or explosives were discovered ... during the raids,” Van Der Sypt said.” Certain elements in the investigation made Sunday’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.”

The raids capped a tense day with hundreds of troops patrolling and authorities hunting for one or more suspected militants. The Belgian government chose Sunday 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 on Monday, 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.

Western leaders stepped up the rhetoric against the Islamic State terrorist group, which has claimed the attacks in Paris that killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more; the suicide bombings in Beirut 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.

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.

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”.

  French Measures

France has intensified its aerial bombing in Syria and the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which has been sent to the Mediterranean to help combat IS militants in Syria, will be operational from Monday and ready to act.

Also Monday, French President Francois Hollande is scheduled to meet in Paris with British Prime Minister David Cameron and will travel to Washington and Moscow later in the week to push for a stronger international coalition against IS. Cameron is expected to outline his plan for combating the militants as he seeks parliamentary approval to join France, the US and Russia in striking the group’s strongholds in Syria.

Attacks like those in Paris are aimed partly at provoking the West, as the IS hopes that stepped-up military action in the region will reinforce its narrative of a clash of civilizations and attract more Muslims to its ranks. IS and other militant groups seize on harsh western rhetoric and civilian deaths to portray themselves as defending Muslims from modern “Crusaders.”

In France, police issued a new appeal to identify the third attacker who was killed in the assault at the national stadium. They posted a photo of the man on Twitter, asking the public for information that would help identify him.

France has extended a state of emergency, which allows police raids, searches and house arrest without permission from a judge, for three months. On Saturday, it also extended a ban on demonstrations and other gatherings through Nov. 30, when a UN climate conference with more than 100 heads of state is scheduled to start.

Financialtribune.com