20 'jihadis' arrested after police swoops across Europe
20 arrested after police swoops in Belgium, France and Germany
Anxiety about new jihadist attacks deepened across Europe yesterday, as police in Belgium, France and Germany arrested more than 20 terrorist suspects.
Thirteen people were arrested in Belgium after two suspected jihadists were killed in a police raid on Thursday in Verviers, in the east of the country. Authorities believe that they foiled - possibly by a matter of hours - a long-planned series of attacks on police and police stations.
Documents recovered also suggested that there was a plan to attack newsagents that sold the 'Charlie Hebdo' magazine. No link has been found with last week's attacks on the magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris.
The two men who were killed - and a third who was wounded - were Belgian nationals who are believed to have returned recently from fighting with Isil in Syria. Separate arrests were, however, made in Charleroi in southern Belgium, as part of the investigation into how Amedy Coulibaly - one of the three French Islamist terrorists killed a week ago - obtained his weapons.
A dozen people were also arrested in France yesterday in dawn raids on the homes of known associates of Coulibaly.
In Berlin, police arrested two men suspected of recruiting fighters for Isil in Syria and Iraq. Authorities said that there was no direct link with the French attacks or the Belgian arrests.
Nerves in France were pushed to the edge by two false alarms, a week after 17 people were killed in three days of linked terrorist attacks.
Gare de l'Est railway station in Paris was closed due to a bomb alert which came to nothing. A heavily armed gunman surrendered after holding two hostages in a post office in Colombes, just west of the French capital. He was described by police as an "unbalanced" individual, protesting against the break-up of a relationship. His two hostages were released unharmed.
The dozen people arrested in the inner suburbs of Paris yesterday are suspected of giving "logistical" support to the Jewish supermarket killer, Coulibaly and possibly the Kouachi brothers. Investigators want to discover where the three gunmen got their huge cache of weapons.
As part of tougher anti-terrorism measures activated after last week's deadly attacks, as of yesterday, French authorities can ban suspected jihadists from leaving the country.
The law, approved in November, gives French authorities the power to confiscate passports and identity cards when they have "serious reasons" to believe that a person intends to travel abroad with terrorist purpose or to join countries where terrorists are operating, such as Syria or Iraq.
The gunman who took two people hostage in a post office in Colombes, a suburb of northwest Paris, was arrested after giving himself up to police.
The hostages were released unharmed, according to police, in an incident which they said had no link to terrorism.
It was earlier reported that the man was known by the authorities, and was carrying out an "armed robbery".
Yesterday US Secretary of State John Kerry paid respect in both English and French to the victims of last week's terrorist attacks in Paris in a show of American solidarity with the French people.
At a ceremony at the Hotel de Ville, the city hall of Paris, Kerry called the attacks a "living nightmare" but one that would unite rather than divide the people of France and the world.
"I really wanted to come here and share a hug with all of Paris and all friends," he told the crowd that included survivors, family members of victims, and members of the police and municipal government who responded to the attacks, including the Muslim man who risked his life to hide Jewish patrons from the gunman who stormed a kosher supermarket.
"I wanted to express to you personally the sheer horror and revulsion of all Americans for the cowardly and despicable assault on innocent lives," Kerry said.
The secretary's visit to Paris, his 19th to the city since he became secretary of state, came amid lingering criticism in the United States of the Obama administration's failure to send a Cabinet-level official to Paris for last Sunday's unity march that attracted some 40 world leaders and more than a million demonstrators.
Mr Kerry did not address the matter but pointedly stressed the close bonds between America and France.
Meanwhile in Britain, police are stepping up patrols in areas with large Jewish communities in response to last week's Paris attacks, Britain's most senior counter-terrorism officer has announced.
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley of Scotland Yard, who is also a national spokesman on anti-terrorism, said officers would liaise with Jewish community leaders in light of "continuing anti-Semitic rhetoric from extremists".
A review of overall security measures is also looking at the safety of other minority communities including Muslims, and at how to protect police officers who might be deliberately targeted by Islamist extremists.
However, late last night a Scotland Yard spokesman refused to comment on whether the review of officers' security would lead to more police routinely carrying guns on the streets of Britain.
(© Independent News Service)