BRUSSELS • Carrying a suitcase loaded with nails and gas bottles in the midst of a crowd, a Moroccan man walked up to a group of people at a Brussels train station and tried to trigger a deadly explosion.
But all the suspect managed was a partial explosion which set the suitcase on fire in the departure hall above the platforms.
The 36-year-old left the bag burning as he ran downstairs to the platforms in pursuit of a station master. Meanwhile, the suitcase exploded again - this time more violently.
The man then returned to the hall, where he rushed to a soldier, shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest" in Arabic). The soldier, part of a routine patrol, immediately opened fire and hit the Moroccan several times, killing him on the spot and effectively averting a deadly attack.
No one else was hurt or killed in the incident on Tuesday evening.
"(The attack) could have been much worse," Belgian federal prosecutor's spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt said yesterday.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said a "terrorist attack has been prevented" in the city that hosts the European Union and Nato headquarters.
Central Station is one of the three main stations in the Belgian capital, along with Gare du Midi and Gare du Nord.
Smoke billowed through the 1930s station's marble halls on Tuesday, sending people fleeing, well aware of last year's attacks at the Brussels airport and on the metro, as well as of a string of assaults inspired by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), most recently in Britain.
Militants based in Brussels were linked to deadly attacks in and around Paris in November 2015, and bombings of an airport and subway station in Brussels in March last year. More than 160 people died in those attacks, for which ISIS claimed responsibility.
Prosecutors said the suspect in Tuesday's incident - whom they named only as Oussama Z, and public broadcaster VRT called Oussama Zariouh - came from Molenbeek, a working-class immigrant neighbourhood that has been connected to the Paris and Brussels attackers. He was known to police for sexual misconduct, but not for terrorism.
Meanwhile, Dutch prosecutors said yesterday that police were holding an 18-year-old terror suspect who may have tried to teach others how to make explosives.
The teenager was arrested in the central city of Utrecht last Thursday, and is also suspected of "spreading ISIS propaganda including violent videos", Utrecht prosecutors said in a statement.
"Police are also investigating indications that he may have instructed others how to make explosives," the statement added, referring to ISIS.
The Netherlands has, so far, been spared the slew of terror attacks which have rocked its closest European neighbours recently.
Over in Spain, police arrested a 32-year-old Moroccan in a dawn raid in central Madrid on Tuesday. He was "highly radicalised" and had a large collection of extreme Islamist material, including a manual for suicide bombers, the government said.
Police also arrested two other Moroccan men, aged 38 and 33, who lived with the first man in the residential apartment, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The man had an extremely dangerous profile, similar to that of those who carried out recent attacks in Britain and France, the government said, without giving further details.
He had tried to recruit others to carry out an Islamist attack in Spain, it said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES