Anti-terror raid nets 12 in Belgium

Belgian soldiers walk the streets after the dismantling of a new terrorist unit  in Brussels, on June 18.
Belgian soldiers walk the streets after the dismantling of a new terrorist unit in Brussels, on June 18. PHOTO: AFP

Crowded areas around weekend football matches were potential targets in alleged plot

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

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

"We want to continue living normally," Mr 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 yesterday, 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 lock-ups.

Flemish public broadcaster VTM said the people arrested were suspected of planning an attack in Brussels this weekend during one of Belgium's soccer matches.

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.

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, Mr Michel said.

Public broadcaster RTBF said Belgium's crisis centre on Friday had placed several government ministers, including the prime minister, under heightened protection. Mr Michel said extra security measures had been taken for some people but did not name them.

With the Euro 2016 football tournament under way in neighbouring France, Europe is on high security alert.

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

On Friday, police arrested and detained a 30-year-old Belgian national named as Youssef E.A, 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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Anti-terror raid nets 12 in Belgium'. Print Edition | Subscribe