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25th Mar 2019

Anti-terror raid leaves two dead in Belgium

  • Belgian police were deployed to prevent 'imminent' terrorist attacks (Photo: Ray Forster)

Jewish schools stayed closed in Belgium on Friday and the country elevated its terror alert after two suspects were killed and one injured on Thursday afternoon (15 January) in an anti-terror raid by Belgian police.

The shoot-out took place around 5pm local time in a former bakery in the south-eastern town of Verviers in the French-speaking region of Wallonia.

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According to the state prosecutor's office, police stormed the suspects' hideout only to be met by bullets fired from small and assault weapons.

At the same time, police were deployed in several parts of the Belgian capital, Brussels, and in the area around the main airport, Zaventem.

Belgian police acted to prevent "imminent, large-scale attacks," two officials from the Belgian state prosecutor office said in a press conference on Thursday night.

Several searches were carried out at the homes of suspects planning the attacks. Some of the suspects had recently returned from Syria, the Belgian officials said.

Prosecutor spokesperson Eric Van der Sypt noted that those targeted in the raid had been under surveillance since coming back from the Middle East and were close to carrying out an attack.

Meanwhile, witnesses on the Brussels metro spoke of an armed man who got off the train at the Ribaucourt metro stop shouting "Allahu akbar" before being arrested. It later emerged that the man was drunk and had mental issues, RTL reported Friday.

The Belgian police action is part of a broader international anti-terrorist action which includes some seven countries, the RTL broadcaster reported.

The shoot-out, house searches, and arrests come at just one week after the massacre in Paris, where 17 people were killed in separate attacks on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, and a kosher store.

The attacks were later claimed by Al Qaeda in Yemen, while one of the attackers, Amedy Coulibaly, shot dead by police, had bought his weapons in Belgium.

A man accused of having sold Coulibaly the assault weapons was seized by Belgian police Thursday.

The Belgian authortities subsequently raised the terrorist alert from two to three (out of four).

Policemen in Antwerp were also allowed to carry their duty weapons home, Le Soir reports.

Jewish schools in Brussels and Antwerp were advised to stay closed on Friday.

“We have been informed that we are a possible target and therefore we will not take any risk”, said Isi Morsel, head of a Jewish school in Antwerp according to Jewish news website Joods Actueel.

Belgian authorities on Thursday could not confirm if there is a link between the Verviers suspects and the Paris attackers.

The Belgian government was due to hold an emergency meeting Friday morning, while the state prosecutor's office planned to hold another press conference at 11am.

This story was updated at 8am on Friday 16 January

Opinion

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