Tuesday 27 September 2016

Islamic State flag and Kalashnikov found in Brussels suspect's apartment

Philip Blenkinsop

Published 16/03/2016 | 02:30

Special operations police take positions during a raid in Brussels
Special operations police take positions during a raid in Brussels
Damaged windows of an apartment are pictured in the Brussels district of Forest where a gunman was shot dead by Belgian police on Tuesday after a raid on the apartment linked to investigations into November's Islamist attacks in Paris March 16, 2016
The front door of an apartment is pictured in the Brussels district of Forest where a gunman was shot dead by Belgian police on Tuesday after a raid on the apartment linked to investigations into November's Islamist attacks in Paris March 16, 2016
Police take cover at the scene where shots were fired
A masked Belgian sniper monitors the area from a rooftop
Armed police stand guard at the scene where shots were fired near Brussels
Emergency services removed a victim from the scene of the shooting near Brussels

Two suspects have been detained after a shooting during a house raid in Brussels linked to investigations into November's Islamist attacks in Paris.

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The Belgian federal prosecutor says a suspect killed by police in a raid linked to the November 13 attacks in Paris was an Algerian man living illegally in Belgium.

Damaged windows of an apartment are pictured in the Brussels district of Forest where a gunman was shot dead by Belgian police on Tuesday after a raid on the apartment linked to investigations into November's Islamist attacks in Paris March 16, 2016
Damaged windows of an apartment are pictured in the Brussels district of Forest where a gunman was shot dead by Belgian police on Tuesday after a raid on the apartment linked to investigations into November's Islamist attacks in Paris March 16, 2016

Thierry Werts, the prosecutor, said an Islamic State group flag, a Salafist Muslim book and a Kalashnikov assault rifle were found in the suspect's home

Eric Van der Spyt, the office's spokesman, said two people were on the run after the raid, which left three officers injured.

The officials said counter-terror investigators came under fire as soon as they opened the door to the home on Tuesday afternoon.

Belgian media had reported that police were searching for two suspects who fled when officers killed an unidentified armed person after four police had been wounded on Tuesday during what investigators had expected to be a routine search.

The front door of an apartment is pictured in the Brussels district of Forest where a gunman was shot dead by Belgian police on Tuesday after a raid on the apartment linked to investigations into November's Islamist attacks in Paris March 16, 2016
The front door of an apartment is pictured in the Brussels district of Forest where a gunman was shot dead by Belgian police on Tuesday after a raid on the apartment linked to investigations into November's Islamist attacks in Paris March 16, 2016

Although police have yet to identify the body, they said it was not the fugitive terrorist Salah Abdeslam (26), who fled to Brussels after failing to detonate his suicide belt during the Paris attacks last November. They gave no information on the likely identity of the fugitives.

"A body was found during the search of a house on Rue du Dries," said Eric Van Der Sypt, spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor. "His identity is not yet known - but, in any case, it is not Salah Abdeslam."

The raid was part of a joint Belgian-French anti-terrorism operation that began at 2pm in the southern Brussels district of Forest. Armed police locked down a wide area as soon as shooting broke out.

A Belgian newspaper said one suspect was shot dead after being spotted from a police helicopter in a nearby garden.

Massacre

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that French police took part in the raid.

The house was identified as part of the police's continuing investigation into the massacre of 130 people in the French capital on November 13, for which Isil claimed responsibility and which were largely plotted in Brussels by Belgian and French nationals.

Most of the terrorists directly involved died at the time or were killed soon after, but Abdeslam became the subject of a massive European manhunt.

Belgian prosecutors have charged 11 men in connection with the killings, all said to have assisted the attackers in some way, and a further eight suspects are in detention awaiting charges.

The house in Rue du Dries is four miles south of Molenbeek, the Brussels commune where many of the Paris attackers lived. Police were preparing to search what they had thought was an empty flat when they unexpectedly came under heavy fire through its door, and two suspects apparently escaped over rooftops.

Police, elite commandos, and fire engines poured into the area, while helicopters hovered overhead. Security services blocked roads and told residents to stay indoors.

One suspect was thought to be armed with a Kalashnikov machine gun. Another was seen fleeing into wasteland near nearby - a police dog with a mounted camera was sent after him, but ran back when the man began firing at it.

Mr Cazeneuve said: "During the course of a search, a team of French and Belgian police officers came under fire, clearly from heavy weapons."

One of the officers was said to be in a serious condition after being shot in the head. Staff and children at nearby schools and day-care centres that were within the initial police perimeter were told to stay indoors before being able to evacuate.

Employees at the nearby Audi assembly plant were told to stay put while police marksmen climbed onto the factory roof. The Audi factory is located alongside the rail line taken by Eurostar trains to London, as well as trains to Paris.

Although the police were armed and wearing bullet-proof jackets, they had not anticipated resistance when they raided the address. Officials said they expected it to be empty, like the apartment in Schaerbeek, in eastern Brussels, where Abdeslam's prints were found along with three handmade belts for possible use in suicide attacks and traces of explosives.

Brussels was locked down for four days after the Paris attacks - with schools, metros and shopping centres closed - as officials warned that the city was at risk of major terrorist incident. While officials said there was no need to consider another lockdown after yesterday's raid, they asked journalists and the public not to publish details of the operation on social media.

Brussels has maintained a high state of security alert since last November, with soldiers on guard around key buildings and military patrols.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks was a Brussels resident, Abdelhamid Abaaoud (28), who was killed in a raid in St Denis five days after the Paris attacks. Another, Bilal Hadfi (20), who blew himself up outside the Stade de France, was said to have lived for a time in the Forest area.

Belgium, with a Muslim population of around 5pc among its 11 million people, has the highest rate in Europe of citizens joining Islamist militants in Syria.

Irish Independent

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