Wednesday 20 September 2017

Brussels in lockdown: 16 arrested but manhunts continues for Paris fugitive

Police set up a barricade during an operation in the center of Brussels on Sunday
Police set up a barricade during an operation in the center of Brussels on Sunday
Police stand near a barricade during an operation in the center of Brussels on Sunday
Police closes streets near the Grand Place in Brussels on Sunday
Police patrol during an operation in the center of Brussels on Sunday
Police patrol during an operation in the center of Brussels on Sunday
A French police officer stands guard by the Eiffel Tower yesterday as Paris remained on high alert
Police in France have appealed for help to identify the third bomber

Rory Mulholland

Belgian prosecutors announce they have detained 16 people in raids linked to possible attacks in Belgium but said Paris fugitive Salah Abdeslam was not among them.

Belgian prosecutors announce they have detained 16 people in raids linked to possible attacks in Belgium but said Paris fugitive Salah Abdeslam was not among them.

Federal prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said that "no firemarms or explosives were discovered," in the 22 raids - 19 in Brussels and the three in Charleroi in the country's south.

"The investigation continues," he said.

One of those detained was injured when a car he was in tried to ram police during an attempted getaway.

A manhunt has been under way for more than a week for Salah Abdeslam, a Brussels-born French national believed to have been the getaway driver.

The situation was tense late last night in Brussels, with police out in force and several raids looking for suspects going on. At one point, security forces closed off streets and yelled at people to stay away.

Prime minister Charles Michel ordered the shutdown of all schools and the metro system over concerns that jihadists were planning a repeat of last week's suicide bombings and gun attacks.

Brussels has been placed on maximum alert and Mr Michel warned that the rest of the country would remain on security alert level three, meaning an attack is considered possible and the threat credible.

"What we fear are similar attacks, with several individuals in several places," he said.

Meanwhile, French police have issued a photograph of a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the Stade de France. They appealed to the public to help identify the man, who is believed to have registered as a migrant on the Greek island of Leros on October 3, along with a fellow suicide bomber.

A BBC reporter who looked at the arrival papers of a man called M al Mahmoud in Leros said the picture issued in France was identical. The man bought ferry tickets with a fellow traveller, using a passport in the name of Ahmad al-Mohammad, to leave Leros and travel through Europe with Syrian refugees.

That passport was found near the body of another of the Stade de France suicide bombers.

The French authorities are stepping up their measures to forestall any attack on the many nuclear plants that supply France with much of its electricity, it emerged yesterday, after Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned of possible biological or chemical attacks.

Dozens of nuclear workers in France have reportedly had their security clearances withdrawn since the 'Charlie Hebdo' attacks because they are suspected of Islamist links or seen as likely to be radicalised.

Officials declined to say exactly why they had come under suspicion.

The 'Journal du Dimanche' newspaper reported that French intelligence is particularly concerned about a convert to Islam, an engineer at a nuclear power station on the Channel coast. He first came to the authorities' attention when he demanded a prayer room at the plant in 2012.

Airport workers have also been placed under surveillance as intelligence services screen them in the hope of thwarting an attack similar to the one that brought down a Russian airliner in Egypt last month.

There were several scares in Brussels over the weekend and police deployed remote-controlled bomb disposal robots to inspect suspect packages and a car.

The mayor of the Brussels municipality of Schaerbeek, Bernard Clerfayt, said: "There are at least two terrorists in the Brussels region who could commit very dangerous acts."

As the huge manhunt continued in Belgium and France for Salah Abdeslam, his brother Mohamed said he believed Abdeslam had a last-minute change of heart.

"He was a very intelligent man and I believe that at the very last moment he changed his path and decided to take a different path," he told the Belgian television network RTBF.

A third brother, Brahim Abdeslam, blew himself up outside a bar.

Salah Abdeslam is believed to be the only surviving member of the cell that massacred 130 people in Paris.

French investigators believe he probably did not take part in the attacks on restaurants and the Bataclan concert hall.

He may have driven three suicide bombers in a Renault Clio to the national stadium, the Stade de France, before going on to the 18th arrondissement, where it is thought he was supposed to carry out another suicide attack. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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