BRUSSELS — The Belgian authorities for a second day on Sunday maintained the highest achievable alert level, practically locking down the capital as they extended their hunt for a widening number of suspects linked to the Paris massacres and who had been poised, they feared, to carry out an imminent new attack.
“We fear an attack equivalent to the 1 in Paris,” Prime Minister Charles Michel told a news conference on Sunday evening. “A quantity of men and women could launch an attack on many areas in Brussels simultaneously.”
He added: “We have indications that the targets of such an attack will be regions that attract huge crowds like industrial centers.”
Scores of police officers and heavily armed Belgian soldiers sealed off streets late Sunday about the headquarters of the Brussels police force, near the Grand Spot, the historic center of the Belgian capital and a significant tourist attraction. Soldiers ordered vacationers to return to their hotels nearby and barred entry to streets behind the Hôtel de Ville, a jewel of Gothic architecture dating from the 15th century. Armored vehicles stood guard in streets usually packed with Belgian and foreign visitors as a helicopter circled the area overhead.
It was not immediately clear precisely what triggered the safety operation, the biggest in Brussels considering that the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.
Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, stated that the threat was wider than that posed by Salah Abdeslam, a suspected Paris attacker who is still at massive, suggesting that the Paris attacks may possibly have involved a far broader network than originally thought.
“There are a quantity of suspects,” Mr. Jambon earlier told a Sunday system on the Belgian broadcaster VRT. “That’s why we’ve place in location such a concentration” of security measures, he added. “We are following the predicament minute by minute. There’s no point in hiding it, there is a genuine threat.”
A former French intelligence official close to the investigations said that the Belgians were now seeking for eight to 10 men and women who are heavily armed with weapons and explosives, in addition to Mr. Abdeslam, a resident of the heavily immigrant Molenbeek district of Brussels, which was property to several of the Paris attackers.
A number of Belgian media outlets reported that the police had arrested 4 folks on Saturday evening, 1 wearing a suicide belt. Geert Schoorens, a magistrate at the federal prosecutor’s office, mentioned Sunday that he could “neither deny nor confirm” those reports simply because investigations had been continuing.
For a second day, the government place the country’s threat level at four, the highest possible. The United States Embassy in Brussels continued to advise citizens to “remain at home” and stay away from public gatherings. The authorities announced that schools and subways in Brussels would stay closed on Monday as properly.
A railway station below the headquarters of the European Union’s executive remained sealed off on Sunday, and all visitors on the Brussels metro system was suspended. Soldiers with automatic weapons patrolled purchasing malls. Many large shops stayed closed. A massive Sunday market place close to the Brussels-South railway station that generally draws as numerous as 50,000 shoppers was canceled.
Prime Minister Michel said Saturday that the threat level had been raised due to the fact of “information, relatively precise, of a threat of an attack comparable to the 1 that unfolded in Paris.”
Bernard Clerfayt, the mayor of Schaerbeek, a commune of Brussels, was much more loose-tongued. On Sunday, he told the Belgian tv network RTBF that “there are two terrorists on the ground in the Brussels area.”
Brussels was below such high alert that Mr. Jambon said he requested that some football matches be canceled so the reserve federal police, who typically enforce the safety for the duration of matches, could be deployed in the capital.
At the same time, the French authorities on Sunday published a new call for witnesses connected to the attacks in Paris and last week’s raid in St.-Denis, appealing for a lot more details about the suicide bomber who was the second of 3 attackers to detonate explosive vests outdoors the Stade de France.
The call for witnesses, published by the French national police on Twitter, integrated a picture but not a name, and asked anyone who had information on the person to make contact with the French authorities. The second suicide bomber detonated his vest close to Gate H of the stadium, killing no a single.
The initial detonated his explosives near Gate D, killing one particular person. A Syrian passport for a 25-year-old man named Ahmad al-Mohammad, from Idlib, Syria, was identified close to his body, but the French authorities believe that the passport could have been stolen.
On Friday, the Paris prosecutor’s office mentioned that fingerprints for both the 1st and second bombers had been taken at the identical check for migrants in Greece on Oct. three. The third bomber, identified as Bilal Hadfi, 20, a French citizen living in Belgium, detonated his explosives on the nearby Rue de la Cokerie but did not kill anybody.
The appeal for help and the extraordinary security measures in Brussels came amid fresh revelations around another suspect, Abraimi Lazez, 39, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, who was arrested Thursday and charged with assisting Mr. Abdeslam after his return to Belgium following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris.
The authorities arrested Mr. Lazez after discovering a handgun and an unspecified quantity of blood in his automobile, his lawyer, Sokol Vljahen, mentioned. Mr. Lazez, who grew up in the identical Molenbeek neighborhood as some of the Paris attackers, denied any hyperlink to the attacks, his lawyer said.
Mr. Abdeslam was stopped by French police officers on Nov. 14 for the duration of a routine visitors verify as he drove back to Brussels with two close friends, both of whom have because been arrested, a few hours soon after the Paris attacks. He had a criminal record, but no warrant linked to his file, and he had not yet been linked to the attacks, so he was allowed to drive on.
A single of the two men traveling with him and now beneath arrest has because told the police that Mr. Abdeslam had been wearing a large jacket, “with something underneath,” according to the suspect’s lawyer, Carine Couquelet. While he did not know what it was, the lawyer stated, the sight of it “made him scared.”
According to Mr. Lazez’s lawyer, his client never ever met Salah nor Ibrahim Abdeslam, his brother who died in Paris when he detonated a suicide vest. Mr. Lazez was not buddies with Abdelhamid Abaaoud either, he mentioned. Mr. Abaaoud, yet another Molenbeek resident, was the presumed ringleader of the Paris attacks and was killed in a police raid just north of the French capital on Wednesday.
Mohamed, a third brother of the Abdeslams who was detained briefly soon after the attacks but released, appealed for Salah to turn himself in.
“We want for him to turn himself in,” he told RTBF tv in an interview on Sunday. “To answer us. For our household, for the loved ones of victims, for all the other people. We prefer to see him in prison than in a cemetery.”
He denied any understanding of his brothers’ plans, even though he mentioned that all three “got along well” and had the usual “banal conversations you have with brothers.”
He said he had not paid attention when the attitudes of his two brothers began to change six months ago. “They began praying,” Mohamed stated. “Or they stopped drinking alcohol, but it’s not a radical modify. For me it’s the sign of individuals who wanted to chasten themselves, and to be more respectful of their religion.”
When asked regardless of whether his brother Salah, may have been reluctant to participate in the attacks, Mohamed said: “It is my hope that he stepped back at the last minute.”
“Maybe he saw or heard one thing that made him turn back. Soon after, did he kill victims? Was he at the precise place? Was he there until the end? We don’t know.”
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