Brussels goes into lockdown, on maximum security alert

Belgian soldiers patrolling the streets while a police officer checks the documents of a woman shopping in central Brussels yesterday. Belgium raised the alert status for its capital to the highest level yesterday, shutting the metro and warning the
Belgian soldiers patrolling the streets while a police officer checks the documents of a woman shopping in central Brussels yesterday. Belgium raised the alert status for its capital to the highest level yesterday, shutting the metro and warning the public to avoid crowds because of a "serious and imminent" threat of an attack.PHOTO: REUTERS

Metro system shut down as information points to risk of Paris-style attacks in Belgian capital

BRUSSELS • Belgium put its capital Brussels on maximum security alert yesterday, shutting the metro and warning people to avoid crowds because of a "serious and imminent" threat of coordinated, multiple attacks by militants.
 

A week after the Paris bombings and shootings that left 130 people dead, Brussels' terror alert was raised to the highest level - four - following a meeting of top ministers, police and security services.

Brussels-based militants are increasingly at the heart of the Paris investigation, and police have multiplied raids in the city's poorest districts in a rush to round up suspects before they disappear or launch fresh attacks.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the authorities feared a "Paris-style" attack "with explosives and weapons at several locations" despite the hundreds of soldiers patrolling Brussels, which is also home to the European Union and Nato.

"The result of relatively precise information pointed to the risk of an attack along the lines of what took place in Paris," Mr Michel told a news conference yesterday. He declined to elaborate, but said the government would review the situation today.

SERIOUS THREAT

The result of relatively precise information pointed to the risk of an attack along the lines of what took place in Paris.

BELGIAN PRIME MINISTER CHARLES MICHEL, explaining the shutdown

The metro system is to remain closed until the afternoon today, in line with the recommendation of the government's crisis centre.

Major shopping centres and stores did open yesterday morning, but many began closing their doors from around midday. The crisis centre urged the public to avoid crowded areas and recommended that the authorities in the Brussels region "consider cancelling major events" in order to free up police. The city's museums were shut and concert venues cancelled planned evening events.

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said that 1,000 troops were now available for patrols, double the number from a week ago.

Investigators are working to track Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspected gunmen, who is still on the loose after the wave of attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Parisian nightspots on Nov 13. He slipped back home to Brussels from Paris shortly after the attacks, in which his elder brother Brahim blew himself up at a cafe.

Fears of the risk Abdeslam still poses prompted the cancellation last week of an international friendly football match in Brussels between Belgium and Spain. The crisis centre said weekend games in Belgium's two professional divisions should now be postponed, but most outside Brussels appeared set to go ahead.

The alert level for all of Belgium was raised following the Paris attacks to level three, implying a "possible or probable" threat.

Three people detained in Brussels are facing terrorism charges, following raids on Thursday targeting people suspected to have links with Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself up at the Stade de France football stadium in Paris last week. Federal prosecutors yesterday said weapons had been found at the home of the person charged on Friday.

In Turkey, a Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin, Ahmet Dahmani, 26, who is believed to have helped choose the sites for the Paris attacks, has been detained, the Dogan News Agency reported yesterday.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council has authorised nations to "take all necessary measures" to fight ISIS and other extremist groups after a wave of attacks across the world left hundreds dead in recent weeks.

The council backed a French-drafted resolution calling for sanctions against ISIS leaders and supporters, as well as more efforts to cut off the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Brussels goes into lockdown, on maximum security alert'. Print Edition | Subscribe