Five held after attackers storm Brussels crime lab

A burned-out car being lifted yesterday at the National Institute for Criminalistics and Criminology. Attackers rammed a car through the gates of the facility in Brussels and then started a fire. Part of the building was damaged in the fire.
A burned-out car being lifted yesterday at the National Institute for Criminalistics and Criminology. Attackers rammed a car through the gates of the facility in Brussels and then started a fire. Part of the building was damaged in the fire. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRUSSELS • Several attackers rammed a car through the gates of Belgium's national crime laboratory in Brussels yesterday and then started a fire in what prosecutors said may have been an attempt to destroy evidence.

Five people were arrested nearby and are being questioned, but there is no confirmed link to terrorism so far. No one was injured in the fire or by a large explosion which shook houses nearby, the city's prosecutors said.

The incident comes as Belgium remains on high alert following suicide attacks on the city's airport and metro in March which were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"Several attackers forced their way into the institute using their car and were able to attack the building," said Ms Ine Van Wymersch, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor's office.

"The possibility of a terrorist act is not confirmed. It goes without saying that several individuals may have wanted to destroy evidence related to their legal cases."

The incident happened in the early hours yesterday at the national criminology institute in Neder-Over-Hembeek, a northern suburb of Brussels, and near the famed Atomium tourist attraction.

Part of the building was scorched and burned out, an AFP reporter saw, while a burned-out car was lifted from the scene by a crane.

Ms Van Wymersch said the crime lab, which gathers and analyses evidence, "was not chosen by chance".

"It is an important part of the Justice Department and deals with sensitive information in connection with several ongoing cases," she said, adding it was not yet clear how they started the fire.

Fire service spokesman Pierre Meys said there was an "extremely powerful" explosion, adding: "Windows of the lab were blown out dozens of metres away."

A young woman living in the neighbourhood said she was awakened by the explosion.

"It made the house shake," she said, asking not to be named.

Belgium has been high alert after suicide bombers struck Brussels airport and a metro station near the European Union headquarters on March 22, killing 32 people.

Those attacks were claimed by ISIS, which controls large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria and has claimed numerous terror attacks in Europe in recent months.

The militant cell responsible for the Brussels attacks was also heavily involved in the November Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Five held after attackers storm Brussels crime lab'. Print Edition | Subscribe