Friday 30 September 2016

'It is not over. We remain under terror alert 3, it means that something is still up' - Belgian police foil major terror attack planned during Belgium-Ireland Euro 2016 clash

* Three men charged with terror-related crimes
* Dozens of houses raided in Belgium overnight
* Fans watching matches were potential targets
* Other targets included crowded shopping areas
* Europe is on high security alert

Julia Fioretti

Published 18/06/2016 | 10:00

Belgian soldiers take positions outside a meeting of the government's security council in Brussels, Belgium, June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Belgian soldiers take positions outside a meeting of the government's security council in Brussels, Belgium, June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A Belgian soldier stands guard outside the prime minister's office building during a meeting of the government's security council in Brussels, Belgium, June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A plainclothes police officer patrols near an apartment building during the reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A Belgian police officer patrols with a dog during a reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A Belgian police officer secures the site of a reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Belgian police officers stand guard near an apartment building during the reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Belgian police officers stand guard near an apartment building during the reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Belgian police have arrested 12 suspects in a major anti-terror operation overnight amid security alerts in Belgium and France around the Euro 2016 match this afternoon between Belgium and the Republic of Ireland.

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It comes just three months after Islamist bombers wrought carnage in Brussels.

Three men were charged with terror-related crimes after two days of raids and the detention of 40 people in a major investigation.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel chaired a meeting of the government's security council - which includes the ministers of defence, foreign affairs, home affairs and justice - on Saturday after the raids and said soccer-related events would go on as planned with extra security measures.

A Belgian police officer patrols with a dog during a reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A Belgian police officer patrols with a dog during a reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

"We want to continue living normally," Michel told a news conference. "The situation is under control."

 "We are extremely vigilant, we are monitoring the situation hour by hour and we will continue with determination the fight against extremism, radicalisation and terrorism," he said.

Earlier on Saturday the Belgian federal prosecutor's office said 40 people had been taken in for questioning and 12 among them were arrested "in connection with a criminal investigation concerning terrorism."

"The investigating judge will decide on their possible detention later today. The investigatory results necessitated an immediate intervention. The investigation continues," it said in a statement.

No weapons or explosives had been found during the overnight searches, which also involved 152 garage lockups.

Flemish public broadcaster VTM said the people arrested overnight were suspected of planning an attack in Brussels this weekend during Belgium's match with the Republic of Ireland.

A Belgian police officer secures the site of a reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A Belgian police officer secures the site of a reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Areas where fans watch matches in Brussels were potential targets, as well as other crowded areas such as shopping centres and stations, Belgian media reported.

It is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of people with Irish citizens in Belgium. Most EU countries have no requirement to register with the local Irish embassy. However, it is estimated that 30,000 Irish live in the Benelux countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Belgian police arrested 12 suspects in a major anti-terror operation overnight amid security alerts in Belgium and France around the Euro 2016 soccer tournament and just three months after Islamist bombers wrought carnage in Brussels.

The Belgian crisis centre in charge of coordinating security responses decided not to raise the security level to the maximum that would indicate an imminent threat of attack, Michel said.

Belgian police officers stand guard near an apartment building during the reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Belgian police officers stand guard near an apartment building during the reconstruction of the recent attacks, in the Brussels district of Etterbeek, Belgium, June 17, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Public broadcaster RTBF said Belgium's crisis centre on Friday had placed several government ministers, including Michel, under heightened protection.

Michel said extra security measures had been taken for some people but did not name them.

"It is not over. We remain under terror alert 3, it means that something is still up," Interior Minister Jan Jambon said. "Last night, we had a very successful action."

The prosecutor's statement said that "the results of the investigation necessitated an immediate intervention," indicating a violent attack was planned in the near future.

With the Euro 2016 soccer tournament underway in neighbouring France, Europe is on high security alert. Islamist suicide bombers killed 32 people in Brussels in March following attacks in Paris last November in which 130 people died.

Investigators have found links between the Brussels and Paris attackers, some of whom were based in Belgium.

On Monday a French police couple were stabbed to death outside their home in Paris in an attack claimed by Islamic State. In a video posted on social networks, the attacker, Larossi Abballa, linked it to the soccer tournament, saying: "The Euros will be a graveyard."

A spokeswoman for Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins said two people close to Abballa would meet a judge on Saturday while a third one was released.

Separately, a judiciary source told Reuters on Friday a 22-year-old man suspected of planning attacks on tourists had been jailed on terrorism charges after being arrested at the start of the week.

On Wednesday Belgian police received an anti-terror alert warning that a group of Islamic State fighters had recently left Syria en route for Europe planning attacks in Belgium and France, security officials said.

Also on Friday police arrested and detained a 30-year-old man named as Youssef E.A, a Belgian national, on suspicion of taking part in terrorist activities in connection with the Brussels attacks.

The man worked at Brussels airport, said RTBF, citing judiciary sources

Reuters

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