Friday 21 October 2016

Belgium police failed to secure flat containing chemicals during Brussels terror alert

Tools that could be used to make home-made bombs were found but police failed to remove chemicals

Rory Mulholland

Published 30/11/2015 | 07:25

A Belgian army soldier patrols on a main boulevard in Brussels
A Belgian army soldier patrols on a main boulevard in Brussels
Some of the items found inside the flat

Belgian police have come under fire from security experts after it was revealed that they failed to secure a flat containing chemicals and tools that could be used to make home-made bombs in the middle of an unprecedented terror alert in Brussels.

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Police also released the man who lived in the flat in the capital’s Molenbeek immigrant area – where several of the Paris attackers lived – just a day after they detained him when a SWAT team burst into the four-storey building and took all its residents in for questioning.

Some of the items found inside the flat
Some of the items found inside the flat

The revelation came just days after Belgian police union officials said the force was so underfunded that it could not afford new trousers for officers or the forensic white powder used to find fingerprints.

The raid was carried out the evening before Brussels was put on maximum security alert on Saturday, November 21, as the country’s prime minister warned of an ‘imminent and serious” threat of a terror attack of the kind that left 130 people dead in Paris.

Pictures from inside the flat show it contains numerous suspicious items.

 The police search left the shabby one-room flat, whose windows its occupant had covered up with newspapers, in chaos but officers failed to remove five large bottles of fertiliser, weedkiller and other gardening substances – which can go to make explosives – along with boxes of electrical wiring, a soldering iron and a CO2 gas canister.

Belgian federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said that there was no reason to hold the man arrested or to secure the flat.

“If there was something suspicious there the man would be in jail,” he said.

But British security experts said there was much cause for suspicion.

 “I would see this and shout for the antiterrorist people,” said a retired senior British police officer, Colin Sutton, adding that he was surprised that the suspect was allowed go free and that the flat had not been secured.

“I am no scientist but the plant chemical bottles and random electrical stuff I would presume are for the manufacture of explosives, possibly (suicide) vests? The scraper / putty knife looks to have traces of a paste which I guess is consistent with this,” he told the Telegraph.

Dave Welch, a bomb disposal expert at Ramora security firm, said the gardening chemicals and the electrical equipment – which are all available to buy over the counter – did not in themselves provide conclusive proof that they were intended for the making of bombs.

“You would also need mixing pots, methods of sieving and distilling and all the processes that you have to go through in order to extract the core elements that you would need in a weedkiller type substance to make an explosive,” he said.

“But the question is does this person need these items, have they got a garden? No, it is a flat. Is the flat full of really nice flowers – no. Is this is a person who takes really good care of the PH of the soil making sure that things can grow properly – no, there are no plants. So you have to ask why have they got them?” he said.

Belgian media at first reported that chemicals and explosive had been found at the flat but later said that only weapons discovered there before later reporting that the guns were of the paintball type.

Belgian federal prosecutors, who are in charge of the hut for the terrorists allegedly plotting attacks in Brussels as well as the so far fruitless search for alleged Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam, have refused to comment on the raid on the flat in Molenbeek.

Belgium has come under attack for failing to clamp down on the Islamic extremists living there some of whom carried out the Paris attacks, with France’s Le Monde newspaper calling the country a "clearing house for jihadism."

This week Alain Winants, the head until last year of the country’s intelligence agency in charge of tackling domestic terror threats, said that he repeatedly warned officials that his budget was becoming dangerously overstretched.

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