Belgium on High Alert After Anti-Terror Raid

Belgium on High Alert After Anti-Terror Raid
Belgium on High Alert After Anti-Terror Raid

Belgium is on high alert after a major anti-terror raid in which two suspected militants were killed. The suspects were shot dead in the eastern town of Verviers after they opened fire on police with automatic weapons Thursday evening.

Officials say they had returned from Syria and planned imminent attacks on police targets. Another suspect was wounded before being arrested. Searches were also carried out overnight in the Brussels area, BBC reported.

Speaking after Thursday’s raid in Verviers, near the German border, Prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said the terror threat level had been raised to three - the second highest.

Referring to the raid, he said, “The suspects immediately and for several minutes opened fire with military weaponry and handguns on the special units of the federal police before they were neutralized.”

After the operation, four Kalashnikovs, bomb-making equipment and police clothing were found, according to local media. Security forces remain in the area.

Verviers is in the province of Liege, close to the German border, and has a population of about 56,000.

“Operations on the ground are now over. We are now exploiting the information [from the overnight anti-terror operations],” Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders told French TV station iTele. Some Jewish schools in Antwerp and Brussels were closed on Friday, after they were informed that they could be potential targets, Belgian media reported.

  Extended Raids

Anti-terror attacks also took place in the capital Brussels and surrounding towns, including Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, Anderlecht and Schaerbeek.

Earlier that day, two suspected militants were arrested in the Brussels suburb of Zaventem, Belgian media reported. Officials say more than 300 people have left Belgium to fight with militant groups in Syria and Iraq. The country is thought to have the highest number of foreign fighters per capita in Europe who have taken part in fighting in Syria.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the security operation “shows the government’s determination to fight those who want to spread terror.”

Additionally, Belgian police are holding 13 suspects detained during a dozen raids across the country, and a further two people targeted by the investigation were held in France, state prosecutors said.

A spokesman told a news conference there was no apparent link to last week’s attacks in Paris and the identities of two gunmen killed during one of the raids, in the eastern town of Verviers, had yet to be confirmed.

As well as guns and explosives, police uniforms were found in the apartment at Verviers, he said. Officials have said they feared the group was about to launch attacks on police stations.

  Europe in Fear

The attacks in and around Paris - on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, a kosher supermarket and police - have heightened security fears in several European countries.

Belgian media quoted a national lawmaker as saying phone taps prompted the operation. There has been concern in Europe that the French attacks, carried out by known radicals not seen as priority threats by security forces, might cause other groups to capitalize on public anxiety by accelerating plans to act.

The incident in Belgium comes a week after deadly attacks in neighboring France that killed 17 people. Belgian media has reported that some of the weapons used in those attacks were bought in Brussels. However officials said no weapons link with the killings in France had been established.

The suspects in the Belgium raids had been under surveillance for some time - well before last week’s traumatic events in Paris, according to reports. But there are fears that the suspects captured or killed in this operation could have been inspired by the killings in France to accelerate their own plans.