Sixteen Arrested in Brussels, Paris Attacks Main Suspect at Large

Mon Nov 23, 2015 09:41:04

Sixteen arrested in 19 Belgian special forces late-night raids but Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam who is key target remains at large, while Brussels heads into a third day of shutdown with schools and metro system closed.

Officials said they arrested at least 16 suspects in 19 raids late on Sunday night aimed at rolling up a terrorist network which authorities believe is planning an attack similar to Paris attacks which left 130 people dead 10 days ago.

No weapons or explosives were found during the raids, and the failure to capture Abdeslam Ssaleh will further undermine wavering confidence in the competence of Belgium’s counter-terrorist agencies.

Local media dubbed the lockdown of Europe de facto capital “historic” and “unprecedented”.

Police evacuated restaurants in the centre, blocked off roads and called on residents to stay away from windows.

The public prosecutor said there were also raids near Liège in the east and Charleroi, south of Brussels.Other raids took place in Molenbeek, a run-down borough of Brussels where Abdeslam lived.

Authorities said the unprecedented security lockdown this week was necessary to prevent a “serious and imminent” terrorist attack.

At least three of the nine men suspected of carrying out the Paris attacks were based in Brussels. Two men were held by Belgian authorities last week on suspicion of picking Abdeslam up in the French capital and driving him back to Belgium after the attacks, which killed 130 and injured hundreds more.

Charles Michel  belgian prime minister told  in a press conference on Sunday afternoon: “We still fear attacks here ... involving several individuals striking simultaneously in several places,” adding that there were “indications” that transport systems, commercial centres, shopping streets and busy places were targets.

On Saturday the government raised the threat level in and around Brussels to four – the highest level – and deployed hundreds of troops to supplement armed local police.

Many in Belgian’s Muslim community, which numbers around 600,000, fear a backlash as tensions continue.

Belgian officials have rejected widespread criticism of the country’s intelligence services and counter-terror efforts.

But the news that a Belgian man suspected of undertaking reconnaissance for the Paris attacks’ targets has been held by Turkish police has underlined the country’s role as a base for those behind the plot.

Belgium reportedly supplies more foreign fighters to Syria than any other EU country in per capita terms. Many have come from Molenbeek, the Brussels borough with a large Muslim community that has long been a concern.

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