Brussels schools, metro reopen as terror alert stays at highest level

A woman accompanies her daughter to school in Brussels on Nov 25, 2015.
A woman accompanies her daughter to school in Brussels on Nov 25, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (REUTERS, AFP) - Schools and much of the Brussels metro system reopened on Wednesday (Nov 25) as the Belgian capital started to return to normal after four days of lockdown, but troops on the street were a reminder it remains on the highest alert.  

With police still hunting a local man who is a prime suspect in the Nov 13 attacks in Paris, along with up to 10 others authorities fear could be planning further violence, the government only plans to review the alert status next week.

The city’s schools were protected by 300 additional officers, some of whom were standing guard outside school gates as parents dropped their children off.  

"I had decided to not bring my kids in school this morning, but changed my mind late last night. Life must go on," said a 47-year-old father who drove his two daughters to school.

"Thank goodness we only have a half day today," said Marc, 14, as he boarded a school bus, adding that he fully enjoyed the two extra days off from school.

Around half the city’s metro stations were open, notably in the centre, with some 200 soldiers assigned to protect them.

Museums and public concert halls were also to reopen, officials said.

Commercial and public life came almost to a halt over the weekend. Salah Abdeslam, 26, is on the run, suspected of being the eighth person Islamic State said took part in the attacks on Paris that killed 130 people. The Belgian government says he may be armed and dangerous and could be plotting further attacks.

More than two dozen people have been detained in Brussels since Nov 13, though all have been released except five. They have been charged with terrorist offences, including three who drove Abdeslam in their cars after the attacks in Paris.

Concerts and sporting events have been cancelled but the weekend’s Davis Cup tennis final between Belgium and Britain is due to go ahead as planned in Ghent, west of the capital.  

In nearby Bruges, however, the mayor ordered that Thursday’s Europa League soccer match between Club Bruges and the Italian side Napoli should be held in an empty stadium because police were too tied up on other duties to provide crowd control.  

Concerns about how long the problems may last were also evident. A large New Year’s party at an exhibition centre in Brussels has been cancelled, the event’s organisers said.