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Thursday 18 January 2018

Man found dead after police storm Brussels house in anti-terror operation

Police secure the area in Brussels after an anti-terror raid linked to last year's Paris attacks (AP)
Police secure the area in Brussels after an anti-terror raid linked to last year's Paris attacks (AP)
Belgian police officers on a street in Brussels (AP)

Police found a man dead when they stormed a house in Brussels at the end of a major anti-terror operation.

The find came several hours after they were shot at during a raid linked to last year's attacks in Paris, a prosecutor said.

It is not clear whether the dead man was one of the suspects sought in the earlier raid in the Forest neighbourhood of Brussels, the Belgian capital where several of the Paris attackers lived.

Four police officers from the French-Belgian operation were injured when at least one suspect opened fire through the door, apparently with an assault weapon, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

Forest mayor Marc-Jean Ghyssels told local media two people had barricaded themselves in a home during the raid.

Many people fled the area when they heard gunfire, and it is too early to say if some were suspects or all were just people trying to escape.

The anti-terror raid was linked to the November 13 gun and bomb attacks on a stadium, cafes and a concert hall in Paris that left 130 people dead.

Police did not expect violent resistance, indicating they were not targeting a major suspect like Salah Abdeslam, who fled Paris and remains on the run. Most of the attackers died that night, including Abdeslam's brother Brahim, who blew himself up.

Four months on, Belgian police and magistrates are still piecing together the role Belgian nationals and others living in the country played in aiding the Paris attackers.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks was a Brussels resident, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Another attacker, Bilal Hadfi, was said to have lived for a time in the Forest neighbourhood. Hadfi blew himself up outside a stadium in Paris the night of the attacks and Abaaoud was killed in a police raid in a Paris suburb soon after.

Forest was locked down for five hours after the initial burst of gunfire.

Police sealed off a wide perimeter around the area where the shots were heard to keep the many bystanders at a safe distance. A helicopter was hovering overhead to patrol the area as police were still looking for at least one suspect.

Several hundred spectators were trying to get a closer look at the operation in the multicultural neighbourhood, which has a big Audi car factory nearby. Audi asked its workers to stay at the plant while the police raid was going on.

Several hooded officers wearing body armour milled around the neighbourhood and ambulances were on standby.

Belgian authorities have stepped up their counter-terror efforts since a lone gunman killed four people at the Brussels Jewish museum in May 2014.

The small western European country has also been prime recruiting ground for Islamic State, and officials freely acknowledge their concerns about what radicalised recruits might do after returning home from the battlefields of Syria or Iraq.

Press Association

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