Two members of a motorbike gang with alleged links to global terror networks are among the suspects arrested over a plot to launch attacks in Brussels.
Authorities said a suspected Isis terror cell were planning to attack high-profile targets in the Belgian capital over the festive season, prompting the cancellation of its main New Year’s Eve fireworks display.
Military fatigues, Airsoft replica gun equipment, Isis propaganda, phones and computers have been seized from homes of the alleged suspects in a series of police raids.
Charles Michel, the Belgian Prime Minister, would not be drawn on whether security forces had successfully thwarted an attack.
“I do not want to categorically say ‘we escaped’ or ‘we didn’t escape’…when investigations have progressed over the coming weeks we will be able to speak more certainly,” he said in a television interview.
A 30-year-old man named as Said Saouti has been charged with threatening terror attacks, recruiting people with the aim of carrying them out and participating in the activities of a terrorist group, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said.
His alleged accomplice, Mohammed Karay, 27, is accused of making terror threats and participating in the activities of a terrorist group.
The two Belgians, who deny the charges, are members of the Kamikaze Riders motorcycle club, which has been previously described by a security expert as “closely associated with jihadists active in Iraq and Syria”.
Although the group uses Japanese imagery and bikes, the word “kamikaze” is also used to refer to suicide bombers in French.
Alexandra Jones, a strategic crime analyst based at The Hague, wrote that the group was founded by Saouti and his friends, and mainly joined by men of Moroccan descent in Antwerp and Brussels.
Before his arrest this week, she called Saouti a “Salafist preacher” who allegedly named Anwar al-Awlaki, among other extremists, as his teacher.
The article, posted on the Foreign Intrigue website, claimed to show a photo of Saouti with an Isis flag in the background, along with evidence of Islamist extremism from other members on social media.
What appears to be Saouti’s current Facebook page lists al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda recruiter killed by an American drone strike in Yemen, as his “place of work”.
Belgian media reports said he had also been associated with the now banned Sharia4Belgium group.
Karay works as a car mechanic and is also a paintball enthusiast, La Dernière Heure reported.
Links between the Kamikaze Riders and extremism were previously drawn in Belgium when founder Abdelouafi Elouassaki, who has since died in a road accident, was investigated for alleged links to Islamist extremism but cleared of involvement. His three brothers are said to have fought with Isis in Syria.
Saouti and Karay were defended by a member of the Kamikaze Riders, who said he had never seen any indication of extremism.
Ludovic Ansel insisted the group was not a gang or terrorist group and could not be blamed for any opinions individuals might hold.
“It’s not only Arabs or Muslims,” told RTL radio. “There are Christians, there are Africans – we are a family. We make video clips, we hold motorbike rallies, we do charity work for disadvantaged schools.”
A judge has ordered Saouti and Karay to be held for a month as investigations continued on Thursday with another wave of raids.
The world mourns Paris attacks - in pictures
The world mourns Paris attacks - in pictures
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Members of the public gather to lay flowers and light candles at La Belle Equipe restaraunt on Rue de Charonne in Paris
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People lay a memorial to honour victims of the Paris terror attacks at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia
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Soccer fans display the colors of the French flag in response to the deadly terrorist attack in Paris, France before the soccer match between the New York Cosmos' and the Ottawa Fury for the North American Soccer League championship at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, USA
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Pakistani Civil society activists shout slogans during a protest against Isis militants near the French consulate for the victims of the 13 November Paris attacks in Karachi, Pakistan
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People gather and view messages written on the ground at Place de la Republique in Paris
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French flags and a note reading "We will not let you spoil our children's lives" at the site of the attack at the Cafe Belle Equipe on rue de Charonne in the 11th district, in Paris
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A rose is placed beside a bullet hole at La Belle Equipe restaraunt on Rue de Charonne following the terrorist attack in Paris. As France observes three days of national mourning members of the public continue to pay tribute to the victims of deadly attacks
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People gather for a national service for the victims of the terror attack at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris
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Bono and band members of U2 pay their respects and place flowers on the pavement near the scene of yesterday's Bataclan Theatre terrorist attack in Paris
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A man kneels as he pays tribute to victims at Place de la Republique near the deadly attack sites in Paris
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Tributes to the victims at the Place de la Republique square in Paris
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An electronic billboard on a canal show solidarity with Paris in Milan
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People lay down flowers and light candles to tribute victims of Friday's attacks in Paris as the Brandenburg gate is illuminated in blue, white and red in the colors of the French flag, in Berlin
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A man leaves flowers as a tribute following the deadly attacks in Paris, outside the French consulate in Istanbul
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People take pictures of flowers placed in bullet holes in the window of a Japanese restaurant next to the cafe 'La Belle Equipe'
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People gather at a makeshift memorial next to the Bataclan theatre in Paris on November 14, 2015,
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A woman carrying flowers cries in front of the Carillon cafe and the Petit Cambodge restaurant in Paris
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People gather in front of flowers that were laid outside the French embassy in Rome
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People react near the cafe 'La Belle Equipe' at the Rue de Charonne
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A young girl places a candle in front of the Carillon cafe in Paris
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Flowers placed outside the cafe 'La Belle Equipe' at the Rue de Charonne in Paris, the scene for one of the attacks
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A woman is comforted by others outside the Carillon cafe and the Petit Cambodge restaurant in Paris
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The Brandenbourg Gate featuring French national colors is pictured in Berlin, on November 14, 2015 a day after deadly attacks in Paris
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Flowers are laid in front of the French embassy in Rome
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A candle is lit next to flowers outside the French Embassy in Berlin
Seven searches were carried out in Molenbeek, Anderlecht, Laken and Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, resulting in six more arrests.
Belgian police said the plot is not related to the continuing investigation into the Paris attacks, which saw a Belgian man identified as Ayoub B charged with “terrorist murders” on Thursday.
The 22-year-old was the tenth suspect to be arrested in Belgium over the massacres that killed 130 people.