Belgium detains 13 suspects in anti-terror raids
The suspects were reportedly plotting to carry out attacks against Belgium police
Belgian police detained 13 people during a dozen anti-terror raids against a militant group across the country, state prosecutors said during a press conference on Friday.
Two more people were held in France, they said.
The prosecutors said they found guns, explosives and police uniforms in an apartment in the eastern city of Verviers. Officials have said they feared the group was about to launch attacks on police stations.
A spokesman told a news conference there was no apparent link to last week’s Islamist attacks in Paris and the identities of two gunmen killed during one of the raids in Verviers on Thursday had yet to be confirmed.
The suspects were shot dead after they opened fire on security forces with automatic weapons. All three were citizens of Belgium. Officials said the suspects had returned from Syria and were about to launch imminent attacks on Belgian police stations.
“The suspects immediately and for several minutes opened fire with military weaponry and handguns on the special units of the federal police before they were neutralized,” prosecutors’ spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told reporters on Thursday.
They ere shot dead after they opened fire on security forces with automatic weapons. All three were citizens of Belgium. Officials said the suspects had returned from Syria and were about to launch imminent attacks on Belgian police stations.
Public television RTBF showed video from Verviers of a building at night lit up by flames, with the sound of shots being fired. Late into the evening, police commandos were controlling some streets and checking other sites.
Speaking to France’s iTele news channel earlier on Friday, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Belgian police have wrapped up a major anti-terror operation.
“Operations on the ground are now over. We are now exploiting the information” from the deadly raid in the town of Verviers and other searches around Belgium, he told France’s iTele news channel.
The incident comes a week after Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in Paris, an attack that fuelled fears across Europe of young Muslims returning radicalized from Syria.
But the Belgian probe into the Islamist suspects had been under way before the Jan. 7 attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and officials saw no obvious link between the two.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel followed the operation and raised the national alert level to three from two on a four-point scale.
“We are not aware of any specific or concrete threats, however, in the situation we can consider it is useful to raise the level of prudence and vigilance,” he told Reuters.
Per head of population, more Belgians have taken part in the fighting in Syria than any other European state.
The Belgian government believes about 100 of its nationals have come back with combat experience. A further 40 may have been killed and about 170 are still in the ranks of fighters in Syria and Iraq.