Paris attacks: Brussels police end house siege, key suspect not found

Police officers in the streets of Molenbeek, Brussels, Belgium, on Nov 14 2015.
Police officers in the streets of Molenbeek, Brussels, Belgium, on Nov 14 2015.PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS (AFP, REUTERS) - Belgian police arrested at least one person after a four-hour siege at a house in the Brussels district of Molenbeek on Monday (Nov 16) but failed to find a man wanted in connection with the Paris attacks.

Molenbeek mayor Francoise Schepmans told broadcaster RTBF that the operation was over with no one injured and that“arrests” had been made. RTBF later said one person had been detained.

Police said the operation was related to the Paris attacks and the search for Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman based in the Belgian capital for whom an international arrest warrant has been issued. Paris attacker Brahim Abdeslam, a Belgium-based Frenchman who blew himself up outside a bar on Boulevard Voltaire, was Salah's brother.

A Reuters journalist at the scene said that three special force commandos wearing gas masks entered the sieged house via the roof. After some 10-15 minutes, they came out of the front door. Armoured vehicles were also in position.

The poor district of Molenbeek, home to many Muslim immigrants, has been at the centre of investigations of militant attacks in Paris over the weekend, after it emerged that two of the attackers had lived in the area.

Earlier on Monday, dozens of armed police, some wearing balaclavas, stood in front of a police van blocking a street in the run-down area. Police issued a warning over a loudspeaker to residents, AFP reporters said, while Belgian media reported that officers had surrounded a house and were telling the occupants to come out.

Separately, Belgian authorities have released five out of the seven suspects who were arrested at the weekend after the Paris attacks, including another brother of Brahim, prosecutors said.

Mohamed Abdeslam was freed “without being charged,” a spokesman for the prosecutor told AFP.