Hunt for two fugitives after shootout in Brussels

An officer on a rooftop during the police operation in Forest, Brussels, on Tuesday. The anti-terror raid was linked to the Paris attacks last November.
An officer on a rooftop during the police operation in Forest, Brussels, on Tuesday. The anti-terror raid was linked to the Paris attacks last November.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Dead suspect in Belgian anti-terror raid identified as illegal Algerian immigrant

BRUSSELS • Belgian police are still hunting for two fugitives following a deadly shootout in Brussels during an anti-terror search in connection with the November Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in which 130 died.

A suspect gunned down during the raid was found with an ISIS flag, a Kalashnikov rifle and a book on Salafism with its extremist literature next to his body.

Mr Thierry Werts, a spokesman for anti-terror prosecutors, told a press conference yesterday that the man had been identified as Belcaid Mohammed, 35, an Algerian national who was was illegally in Belgium.

Mohammed, who was armed with the assault rifle, was shot dead after four officers were wounded on Tuesday during what investigators had expected to be a routine search of an apartment in the suburb of Forest in the south of Brussels in an anti-terror operation linked to the Paris attacks last November.

Mr Werts said: "Two persons who were probably in the flat and whose identity is not known fled the scene and are being tracked down."

Police said they were holding two men, one who had been admitted to hospital near Brussels with a broken leg, and were still assessing whether they were connected to the shooting.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel yesterday summoned security and intelligence chiefs for an emergency sitting of its national security council.

He said operations were still under way in a vast manhunt for suspects, adding that it was "linked to the attacks in Paris".

A French police source said the operation was focused on the associates of one, or several, of 11 people who have been charged in Belgium in connection with the attacks.

A French policewoman, who Justice Minister Koen Geens said had been helping in a joint investigation between French and Belgian police, was among three officers wounded in the initial assault. A fourth was hurt in an exchange of fire.

Security forces launched a huge operation after the gun battle broke out, cordoning off the area with vehicles while a police helicopter hovered overhead.

Children and teachers in two schools and two nurseries near the scene were asked to remain indoors before they were eventually let out accompanied by armed police.

Residents were later allowed back into their homes and 50 people who had been trapped in an Aldi supermarket were also allowed to leave.

By midnight, calm had largely returned to the area and most locals had been allowed to return home.

The incident took place across the street from an Audi car factory and the train lines leading to the Eurostar cross-channel terminal at the Gare du Midi railway station. Soldiers remain on guard at key areas including train stations and European Union institutions.

Belgium, with a Muslim population of about 5 per cent among its 11 million people, has the highest rate in Europe of citizens joining Islamist militants in Syria.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Hunt for two fugitives after shootout in Brussels'. Print Edition | Subscribe