Paris attacks: Belgian PM rejects criticism, to jail returning jihadists

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel leaves the European Council headquarters at the end of a European Union leaders summit in Brussels on Oct 16, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

CARMICHAEL Brussels (AFP) - Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Thursday (Nov 19) rejected criticism of his country's security services over the Paris attacks and unveiled new security measures including jailing jihadists returning from Syria.

With Belgium under pressure after France said the attacks were plotted there, the raft of new measures also included putting ankle bracelets on radicals, launching possible night raids and extending detention periods for terror suspects.

But Michel insisted Belgium was pulling its weight and said Belgian intelligence led to the huge raid in France on Wednesday that killed the suspected ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

"I do not accept the criticisms which were aimed at denigrating the work of our security services," Michel said in a speech to parliament.

He added that another "attack was prevented thanks in particular to intelligence provided by Belgian teams" to the French which led to Wednesday's raid.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve however said on Thursday that other European countries gave Paris "no information" on Abaaoud.

Michel also said "lives have been saved" because of a terror cell involving Abaaoud that Belgian security broke up in a raid in January, killing two jihadists.

French President Francois Hollande has said that the Paris attacks were "planned in Syria, prepared and organised in Belgium."

Abaaoud grew up in the poor Molenbeek district of Brussels, described as an extremist hotbed, before going to join the Islamic State group in Syria and escaping the raid in Verviers.

Meanwhile Molenbeek native Brahim Abdesalam, who blew himself up in front of a cafe in Paris on Friday, and his brother Salah, who is wanted by French authorities over the attacks, were also from Molenbeek.

This year the two were questioned by police on their radical activities, but released without charge and without a report to French authorities.

Michel said "the government has decided to send a firm signal by releasing 400 million euros (S$606 million)" for the 2016 budget mainly to provide the security services with more recruits and new equipment.

"And for the jihadists who return from Syria, their place is in prison," the prime minister said.

Police will also be allowed to carry out raids at night - which until now have been banned from 9pm to 5am - in addition to putting ankle bracelets on radicals and extending detention for terror suspects from the current 24 hours to 72 hours.

In the latest raids since Friday's attacks, Belgian police swept through six areas of Brussels linked to 20-year-old Bilal Hadfi, one of the three suicide bombers who blew himself up outside the French national stadium where France and Germany where playing a friendly.

They targeted places linked to Hadfi's family, friends and others close to him, the prosecutor's office said.

On Tuesday a friendly football match between Belgium and Spain in Brussels was cancelled.

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