Sun, Mar 27, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Authorities shoot suspect in attacks

‘HEAVY THREAT’:Belgian investigators found evidence of a European extremist cell linked to the bombings in Brussels, last year’s Paris attacks and a thwarted attack

AFP, BRUSSELS

Emergency services personnel observe a minute of silence in a vigil commemorating victims of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, at Place de la Bourse in Brussels on Friday.

Photo: EPA

Belgian police shot a suspect as part of a huge European terror crackdown that yielded several arrests on Friday as France’s president said a militant network that targeted both Paris and Brussels was being “destroyed.”

Grieving Belgians held prayers in the rain in a central Brussels square carpeted with flowers and tributes to the 31 dead and 300 wounded in Tuesday’s carnage, but there was also growing anger at the government for letting a string of militants slip through the net.

The raids came as under-fire Belgian investigators uncovered alarming new evidence of a European extremist cell tied to bombings at Brussels’ airport and metro, November last year’s Paris attacks and a new French plot.

“Even if the one that committed the attacks in Paris and Brussels is in the process of being destroyed ... there is still a heavy threat,” French President Francois Hollande said.

European authorities are under huge pressure to better coordinate the tracking of homegrown extremists and fighters returning from Syria, as evidence grows of a thriving extremist network straddling France and Belgium.

A Belgian parliamentary commission on Friday heard from the ministers of justice, foreign affairs and the interior on how suicide bomber Ibrahim el-Bakraoui and his brother Khalid managed to evade Belgian authorities.

French police said they had foiled a terror strike in France by 34-year-old Reda Kriket — a man previously convicted in Belgium in a terror case alongside Paris attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud — after arresting him and discovering explosives at his home.

Belgian police later arrested three people in connection with the new French conspiracy, prosecutors said.

In dramatic scenes, one of the suspects was shot in the leg at a tram stop in broad daylight in a huge operation by police in the Belgian capital’s Schaerbeek district, where police found a bomb factory linked to the Brussels attacks.

Deepening the links, Belgian prosecutors revealed that Brussels airport bomber Najim Laachraoui’s DNA was found on a suicide vest and a piece of cloth at the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 people were killed during November’s Paris attacks, and on a bomb at the Stade de France stadium.

A huge search is still under way for at least two suspects — one of the airport attackers whose bomb failed to go off and another man seen in the metro with the bomber there.

Investigators also said Khalid el-Bakraoui rented an apartment in Brussels used by key Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was taken into custody in the Belgian capital on March 18.

The nation’s federal prosecutor revealed Abdeslam “has invoked his right to silence” and has not spoken to investigators since a few brief interviews the day after his arrest.

US officials confirmed that two US nationals were among the Brussels dead. US Secretary of State John Kerry said he stood by the Belgian people, echoing their backing of the US after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Then, voices across Europe declared: ‘Je suis Americain’. Now, we declare: ‘Je suis Bruxellois’ and ‘Ik ben Brussel,’” Kerry said in French and Flemish, the country’s two main languages, after meeting Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

Harrowing stories continued to emerge from survivors of the attacks, in which people from about 40 nations were killed or wounded.

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