Belgium raises terror alert to highest level amid imminent threat
PM says highest security warning triggered by risk of attacks by individuals with ‘weapons and explosives’ in Brussels
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Saturday that the decision to raise the terror threat level in the capital Brussels to the highest possible level was linked to an imminent threat of attacks.
“This was due to a threat of an attack by individuals with explosives and weapons at several locations in the capital,” Michel told a news briefing in Brussels.
Brussels shut its metro system earlier Saturday as a terror alert was raised to its highest level, with a gunman still on the run after the Paris attacks that have sent jitters through Europe.
Citizens of the Belgian capital were urged to avoid crowded areas due to reports of an “imminent threat” as Belgium-based jihadists have been increasingly linked to the devastating attacks in Paris.
Investigators are working around the clock to track Salah Abdeslam, one of the gunmen who is still on the loose after a coordinated wave of attacks on Parisian nightspots that left 130 dead.
Abdeslam is believed to have fled to Belgium and a huge manhunt is underway to find him. His brother Brahim blew himself up outside a Paris bar.
Both grew up in the poor Molenbeek district of Brussels, described as an extremist hotbed, before going to join the Islamic State group in Syria.
The carnage has put all of Europe on edge as it emerged dangerous jihadists slipped between countries unnoticed, prompting the EU to rush through reforms to tighten border checks in its cherished passport-free Schengen zone.
Turkey has detained a Belgian citizen of Moroccan origin, Ahmet Dahmani, 26, who is believed to have helped choose the sites for the Paris attacks, the Dogan news agency reported on Saturday.
The United Nations Security Council on Friday authorized nations to “take all necessary measures” to fight Islamic State jihadists and other extremist groups after a wave of terror attacks across the world that has left hundreds dead in recent weeks.
The UN resolution came as jihadist gunmen with an al-Qaeda branch besieged a luxury hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako killing 27 people. Mali was struck a week after Paris and Beirut — where 44 where killed in IS bombings — and three weeks after IS downed a Russian plane, killing 224 people.
Belgium’s OCAM national crisis center raised its alert level to 4 early Saturday, “signifying a very serious threat for the Brussels region.”
The alert remains at level 3 for the rest of the country.
The center urged citizens to avoid crowded areas such as concerts and transport hubs in Belgium’s capital, which is also home to the EU and NATO headquarters, and recommended that authorities in the Brussels region “consider cancelling major events” — including scrapping first and second division soccer matches this weekend.
The European Union agreed Friday to rush through reforms to the Schengen zone by the end of the year. The 26-nation area is a passport-free zone, and normally only non-EU nationals have their details checked against a database for terrorism and crime when they enter, but those checks will now be extended to EU citizens.
The planned changes are a further blow to Schengen as a pillar of European unity and freedom after an unprecedented influx of migrants has caused Germany and other member states to temporarily reintroduce internal border controls.
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