Brussels anti-terror police nab 3, including man ‘with explosives’

Authorities tie arrests to Paris raid; 1 suspect shot at tram stop, dragged away by officers who sent in robot to retrieve his bag

Belgian police stand by as a bomb squad robot moves toward a suspicious object at a tramway station on March 25, 2016 in Schaerbeek suburb of Brussels, during the arrest of a suspect in a fresh anti-terrorist operation. (AFP/PATRIK STOLLARZ)
Belgian police stand by as a bomb squad robot moves toward a suspicious object at a tramway station on March 25, 2016 in Schaerbeek suburb of Brussels, during the arrest of a suspect in a fresh anti-terrorist operation. (AFP/PATRIK STOLLARZ)

Belgian security forces on Friday shot and wounded a terror suspect reportedly carrying explosive material, during an arrest raid at a tram station in the Schaerbeek area of Brussels. The man was one of three detained Friday in the latest anti-terror sweep following Tuesday’s deadly attacks in the Belgian capital.

Belgium’s state broadcaster said one person carrying a bag of explosive material was wounded and arrested in the Schaerbeek raid.

Schaerbeek Mayor Bernard Clerfayt said that a man had been arrested, and that he was lightly hurt in the incident.

“I can confirm a police operation targeting a person who was intercepted by police and suffered a slight leg injury,” he said, adding that there had been several small explosions linked to bomb disposal work.

The two others were arrested later Friday, the Belgian federal prosecutor said.

“Police carried out two searches as part of a terrorism case linked to the arrest of Reda Kriket,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

A French police source also said the raid was related to the arrest of 34-year-old French national Kriket in Paris on Thursday, who was found with heavy weapons and explosives in his apartment. French and Belgian authorities are laboring to unravel the links between jihadists in their respective countries.

The Daily Mail, which published a series of amateur images of the Schaerbeek arrest, said a child had to be coaxed away from the side of the wounded suspect before officers could swoop in.

The officers, who had apparently been taking cover behind parked vehicles, dragged the suspect away from the station, prompting him to release the bag he still had in his grip.

A robot was then deployed to retrieve the bag, which was inspected by a bomb disposal expert.

Brussels, which has emerged as a hotspot for radical Islam in Europe, was hit Tuesday by suicide bombings which left 31 dead and hundreds wounded in blasts at the airport and on the city metro.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Friday skipped a wreath-laying ceremony with US Secretary of State John Kerry at Brussels airport, one of the targets of Tuesday’s attacks, due to the ongoing police operation.

French officials said Friday they had foiled a terror attack by Kriket, a French national convicted in Belgium in July 2015 alongside Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

During a raid on Kriket’s home in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil, police seized assault rifles including Kalashnikovs and TATP — the homemade explosive of choice of the Islamic State group.

France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the arrest of Kriket “foiled a planned attack in France, which was at an advanced stage.”

Some of the TATP found in Kriket’s apartment was ready to use, while police also found its ingredients, acetone and oxygenated water.

Kriket was found guilty in absentia in Brussels last July of being part of a network recruiting jihadists to Syria and sentenced to 10 years’ jail, according to police sources.

Investigations showed he played a key role in financing the network with money from robberies and stolen goods.

Among those who went to Syria through the network were Abaaoud and another Paris attacker, Chakib Akrouh.

Abaaoud was among 28 people convicted in the Belgian trial and was sentenced to 20 years in absentia.

The ‘ringleader’

A 28-year-old Belgian of Moroccan origin, Abaaoud was a notorious jihadist who had appeared in grisly Islamic State group videos and was behind several failed attack plots in Europe.

On November 13, he formed part of a 10-man team of gunmen and suicide bombers that left 130 people dead in a series of attacks on Paris, with authorities referring to him as the “ringleader.”

Abaaoud was killed five days later in a police raid outside Paris, during which Akrouh blew himself up, also killing Abaaoud’s female cousin.

Abaaoud and Akrouh were part of the team of jihadists who sprayed Paris restaurants and bars with gunfire on the night of the attacks, killing 39.

Abaaoud was from the Brussels immigrant district of Molenbeek, which has been thrust into the spotlight for its ties to the Paris attackers and Islamic radicalism.

It is also where Abdeslam was arrested last week after a four-month manhunt. It remains unclear where Kriket fits in.

Cazeneuve said Kriket had been under surveillance “for several weeks” and that the arrest was also the result of “close and constant cooperation between European services.”

“He belongs to a terrorist network that sought to strike our country,” the interior minister said.

Cazeneuve said earlier in March that France had thwarted at least six potential attacks since jihadists struck in January 2015, killing 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

Since the beginning of 2016, 75 people have been arrested in France “with links to terrorist activities”, 37 have been charged and 28 jailed, he said.

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