Brussels stays locked down for third day in a row

A Belgian soldier standing guard over the Grand-Place of Brussels as police searched the area on Sunday following the recent deadly Paris attacks. Armed police and troops have been patrolling the near- deserted streets of Brussels all weekend after t
A Belgian soldier standing guard over the Grand-Place of Brussels as police searched the area on Sunday following the recent deadly Paris attacks. Armed police and troops have been patrolling the near-deserted streets of Brussels all weekend after the government raised the terror alert to the highest level of four in the Belgian capital.PHOTO: REUTERS

But despite numerous police raids, key Paris attack suspect remains at large

BRUSSELS • The Belgian capital was locked down yesterday for a third day under maximum terror alert, with schools and the metro closed after Belgian police raids failed to find key Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Belgian police carried out five raids in the Brussels area and two around the eastern city of Liege yesterday. Five people were detained, according to federal prosecutors, but no details were given about their identities.

On Sunday, 19 raids were carried out in Brussels and three in the industrial town of Charleroi. Police said they detained 16 people and found €26,000 at a single site, but failed to find Salah.

"Salah Abdeslam was not caught during the raids," federal prosecutor spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told reporters, meaning Europe's most wanted man remains at large.

The 26-year-old is suspected of playing a key role in the massacre. His elder brother Brahim blew himself up outside a Paris bar in the Nov 13 attacks claimed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants.

Another brother, Mohamed, on Sunday urged Salah to give himself up, saying that was the only way his own family, and those of the victims, would find an answer to the suffering he had helped to inflict.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said Brussels, a diplomatic and business hub that is home to the European Union and Nato, faced a "serious and imminent" threat of attacks similar to those in Paris which left 130 people dead.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon told Belgian radio there would be no let-up in the manhunt. "The operation is not finished. We will continue until we clean up this mess," he said.

Armed police and troops patrolled the near-deserted streets of the tense capital all weekend after the government raised the terror alert to the highest level of four in the city. They were out in force again yesterday but people were trying to go about their daily lives as normally as possible under the circumstances.

Traffic was relatively light in the centre of the city and many people opted to cycle to work.

In the normally bustling historic Grande Place, a few bars and restaurants were open for business but it was hard going to get customers.

The EU and Nato both said they would bolster security and urged non-essential staff to work from home yesterday.

The rest of the country, including Brussels airport, remains on security alert level three, meaning an attack is considered possible and the threat credible.

In France, police on Sunday released a photo of the third of three men who blew themselves up outside France's national stadium.

The man passed through Greece with one of the other suicide bombers, carrying a Syrian passport in the name of Mohammad al-Mahmod, a source close to the investigation said. It is not clear whether the passport was genuine or stolen.

French security forces have made nearly 300 arrests in the Paris region since the Nov 13 attacks, police chief Michel Cadot said yesterday. A total of 298 people have been placed under administrative detention, while 71 people are under house arrest.

He added that there were 10,200 police and 6,400 soldiers deployed across the region that includes the capital - prioritising stations, airports, large public spaces, government buildings, cultural sites, media companies and hospitals.

Meanwhile, Germany has kept security along its border with Belgium at a high level since the Paris attacks, a German police spokesman said. Several Belgian media have carried unsourced reports saying Salah had been seen in a car near the eastern city of Liege heading towards Germany.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2015, with the headline 'Brussels stays locked down for third day in a row'. Print Edition | Subscribe