Brothers charged with planning Belgium attack

Police officers of an anti-terrorism unit and of French intelligence agency (DGSI) patrol in a street on Wattignies, northern France, after a man was arrested during a French-Belgian anti-terrorist operation on July 5, 2017.
Police officers of an anti-terrorism unit and of French intelligence agency (DGSI) patrol in a street on Wattignies, northern France, after a man was arrested during a French-Belgian anti-terrorist operation on July 5, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Two brothers of a convicted militant were charged in Brussels on Wednesday (July 5) with belonging to a “terrorist group”, suspected of planning an attack with a large stash of weapons including Kalashnikov rifles.

The pair, named as Akim and Khalid Saouti, were among four people detained overnight in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht, according to a statement from Belgium’s federal prosecutor.

A source close to the probe said the two “radicalised” men are brothers of Said Saouti, a member of the Kamikaze Bikers club who was jailed for six years in 2016 for recruiting people to jihadist organisations and supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group on social media.

Separately, a joint Franco-Belgian operation picked up a man in the northern French city of Lille on suspicion of having links to the Kamikaze Riders, a notorious bikers’ club from around Brussels.

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A source with knowledge of the operation said that man was suspected of planning a “violent attack”.

The prosecutor’s office said police had found automatic rifles, handguns, ammunition and bulletproof vests as well as police and security guards’ uniforms and “four detonators” in a lock-up in Anderlecht.

It said the two brothers were suspected of “participating in the activities of a terrorist group” and placed in custody.

The two other arrested individuals were later released.

Authorities were drawn to the Saouti brothers on suspicion that they had been radicalised and were planning an attack, which appeared to be borne out by the weapons found, according to reports.

There was no information on a possible target but the police decided not to wait any longer.

The raids come with Belgium and France still on high alert after several deadly attacks claimed by ISIS, with troops on patrol in Brussels and Paris to guard key buildings and infrastructure.

Last month, a soldier shot dead a man who had attempted to set off a bomb in Brussels’ Central Station, sparking fears that further attacks could happen.

Investigators said at the time they had evidence that the suspect, a 36-year-old Moroccan national, had ISIS sympathies.

They also found explosive materials in a raid on his home in Molenbeek, a Brussels district where many of the militants who carried out the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015, and those in the Belgian capital in March 2016, grew up and found shelter.

NO LINK TO PARIS-BRUSSELS PROBE

A spokesman for prosecutors had said earlier that the raids were “directly linked” to members of the Kamikaze Riders, not to the investigation into the Paris and Brussels attacks.

In France, a source close to the probe said a 42-year-old arrested in a suburb of the northern city of Lille was suspected of plotting “violent action”.

Several members of the Kamikaze Riders, formed in 2003 and known for testing the patience of the police, were suspected of links to foiled attacks in Brussels in late 2015.

In October 2016, two members of the gang, including Said Saouti, were convicted of belonging to a terrorist group.

They were suspected of plotting an attack similar to the November 2015 carnage in Paris that left 130 people dead.

Four months later, militants also struck in Brussels, hitting the airport and the metro, killing 32 people and leaving hundreds injured.

The killings rocked Belgium and caused consternation when it became clear that many of those involved had been known to the authorities for some time.

Several came from Molenbeek, home to a large Moroccan immigrant community, and had hidden there after the attacks before finally being tracked down by the police.