Mon, Jun 20, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Belgium charges three as ‘terrorists’

UPGRADED SECURITY:Belgian media reported that security for 30 political figures and their families was increased, despite the threat rating remaining at three

AFP, BRUSSELS

Belgian soldiers take their positions outside a meeting of the government’s security council in Brussels on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Belgian authorities on Saturday charged three men with “attempted terrorist murder” after raiding dozens of homes in raids linked to a reported threat to fans during a Euro 2016 soccer game.

Named by prosecutors as Samir C., Moustapha B. and Jawad B., the trio were among 12 people detained during the overnight raids, hours before thousands of people gathered around screens to watch Belgium play Ireland.

The three have also been charged with “participation in the activities of a terrorist group,” while the nine others were released after questioning, prosecutors added.

The areas searched included neighborhoods in Brussels where the militants in last year’s Paris attacks and the Brussels suicide bombings in March had planned their assaults.

Prosecutors said they were responding to a need for “an immediate intervention.”

Flemish commercial broadcaster VTM reported that the swoop was connected to a threat linked to Belgium’s game against Ireland, held on Saturday afternoon in Bordeaux, France. No incidents were immediately reported after the match, which ended with a 3-0 defeat for the Irish, sending Belgians into the streets in celebration.

“Over the coming hours, we are going to take additional and updated security measures,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said after a national security council meeting to discuss the threat.

Public events planned for the coming days would go ahead, he said, including those linked to the Euro championships.

“We want to continue living normally,” the prime minister said.

Forty people were initially detained and 152 garages searched in Friday night’s raids in Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia, VTM said, adding that the threat was chiefly to public fan zones where supporters follow games on giant screens.

The raids “passed off without incident,” prosecutors said in a statement, adding that no arms or explosives were found.

Belgium is still reeling from the Islamic State suicide bombings at Brussels Airport and on the city’s metro on March 22, which killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more.

Officers in Flanders moved on the town of Zaventem close to the airport, while in the capital there were raids in the suburbs of Molenbeek, Schaarbeek and Forest, all closely associated with the perpetrators of both the Paris and Brussels attacks.

Molenbeek is notorious for being a hotbed of Muslim extremism, where Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the 10-man team that attacked Paris, killing 130 people, hid out for months until his dramatic arrest on March 18.

One of the searches in Wallonia was conducted in the area of Fleurus, close to Brussels South Charleroi Airport, a region that also hosts nuclear power facilities.

Euro 2016 host France is on maximum alert after an assailant previously convicted for extremism knifed a police officer and his partner to death in a Paris suburb on Monday last week.

In Belgium, the latest raids have raised tensions in a country already dogged by the threat of terrorism.

Belgian media on Wednesday last week reported that police had warned that Islamic State fighters had recently left Syria to carry out attacks.

“They would separate into two groups, one for Belgium, the other for France, to attack in pairs,” an official document revealed by the newspaper La Derniere Heure stated, describing the threat as “imminent.”

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