Troops still out in Brussels as hunt continues for terrorists

Belgian soldiers on patrol in Rue Neuve, usually the busiest shopping street in Brussels but empty yesterday after the terror alert was raised to the highest level of four because of what officials said was an "imminent threat".
Belgian soldiers on patrol in Rue Neuve, usually the busiest shopping street in Brussels but empty yesterday after the terror alert was raised to the highest level of four because of what officials said was an "imminent threat".PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Search not confined to Paris attack suspect, says minister; France fears chemical attack

BRUSSELS • The Belgian capital was locked down for a second day yesterday with police and troops on the streets as the authorities hunted for several suspects linked to the Paris attacks.

With the world on edge over the militant threat, US President Barack Obama said the most powerful tool to fight the terror of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremists was to say "that we are not afraid".

In Paris, Defence Minister Jean- Yves Le Drian said a chemical or biological attack "was among the risks" but that all possible precautions had been taken.

French jets will be able to launch air strikes on ISIS targets from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean starting today, Mr Le Drian added.

Belgian officials were meeting yesterday to decide whether to extend the security alert in the city of 1.2 million people imposed over fears that extremists were plotting similar strikes to the Paris attacks on Nov 13 that left 130 dead.

NOT COWED

We are not going to paralyse Brussels economically, nor the country. We are not led by panic and fear.

JUSTICE MINISTER KOEN GEENS, who said the metro system in the Belgian capital was likely to resume operations today

The city's metro system and public buildings were closed on Saturday, with shops and restaurants following suit after the terror alert was raised to the highest level of four because of what officials said was an "imminent threat".

Justice Minister Koen Geens said yesterday that the metro system was likely to resume operations today. "We are not going to paralyse Brussels economically, nor the country. We are not led by panic and fear," he said.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the authorities were looking not just for Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam, who managed to slip past French security forces after the carnage in the City of Light.

Mr Jambon warned that the capture of Abdeslam, a Belgian-born 26-year-old whose brother blew himself up at a cafe in Paris, would not in itself end the threat.

"It involves several suspects and that is why we have put in place such exceptional measures," the Belga news agency cited Mr Jambon as telling Flemish television. He said: "There is a real threat but we are doing everything possible day and night to face up to this situation."

Belgium and the capital, home to the European Union and Nato, are no strangers to extremist violence.

Four people were shot dead at the Brussels Jewish museum last year and, in January, security forces killed two suspects linked to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris.

The EU has been under huge strain trying to cope with a massive flow of migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East and across Africa and the Paris killings fanned fears that dangerous extremists could be hiding among the refugees.

The United Nations Security Council last Friday authorised nations to "take all necessary measures" to fight ISIS militants after a wave of attacks, including the downing of a Russian aircraft in Egypt with the loss of 224 lives and the storming of a luxury hotel in Mali which left 19 people dead.

Mr Obama said yesterday that he would press ahead with a visit to Paris for the upcoming UN climate conference, calling on world leaders to show similar resolve.

"In addition to hunting down terrorists, in addition to... all the other things that we're doing, the most powerful tool we have to fight ISIL is to say that we're not afraid," he said, using one of ISIS' other names.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Mali attack, in which six Russians died, "confirms that terrorism knows no borders and is a real danger for the whole world".

In Turkey, police arrested a Belgian of Moroccan origin in the resort of Antalya, the site of last week's G-20 summit, along with two other suspects, probably Syrians.

Ahmet Dahmani, 26, reportedly scouted out targets for the Paris attacks, which saw gunmen and suicide bombers target bars, a rock concert and the national stadium.

The suspected ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed in a massive police raid last Wednesday. Police also found the body of an unidentified suicide bomber who, according to DNA tests, is not known to police. In all, seven attackers died in Paris.

Salah Abdeslam may be equipped with a suicide belt, according to Hamza Attou, one of two suspects charged by the Belgian authorities with allegedly helping him to return to the country after the attacks.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2015, with the headline 'Troops still out in Brussels as hunt continues for terrorists'. Print Edition | Subscribe