Brussels shooting: Paris-linked gunman shot dead and four police officers injured in flat raid

Although police were armed and wearing bullet-proof jackets, they had not anticipated resistance when they raided address

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The Independent Online

A gunman linked to last year’s Paris attacks has been shot dead by police, while two others were on the run after a house raid in Brussels that went wrong, leaving four police officers injured.

Although police have yet to identify the body, they said it was not the fugitive terrorist Salah Abdeslam, 26, who fled to Brussels after failing to detonate his suicide belt during the Paris attacks last November. They gave no information on the likely identity of the fugitives.

“A body was found during the search of a house on Rue du Dries,” said Eric Van Der Sypt, spokesman for the Belgian federal prosecutor. “His identity is not yet known, but in any case, it is not Salah Abdeslam.” 

The raid was part of a joint Belgian-French anti-terrorism operation that began at 2pm in the southern Brussels district of Forest. Armed police locked down a wide neighbourhood as soon as shooting broke out. 

The house was identified as part of the police’s continuing investigation into the massacre of 130 people in the French capital on 13 November, for which Isis claimed responsibility and which were largely plotted in Brussels by Belgian and French nationals. 

Most of the terrorists directly involved died at the time or were killed soon after, but Abdeslam became the subject of a massive European manhunt.

Belgian prosecutors have charged 11 men in connection with the killings, all said to have assisted the attackers in some way, and a further eight suspects are in detention awaiting charges.

The house in Rue du Dries is four miles south of Molenbeek, the Brussels commune where many of the Paris attackers lived. Police were preparing to search what they had thought was an empty flat when they unexpectedly came under heavy fire through its door, and two suspects apparently escaped over rooftops.

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Police, elite commandoes, and fire engines poured into the area, while helicopters hovered overhead. Security services blocked roads and told residents to stay indoors. One suspect was thought to be armed with a Kalashnikov sub-machine gun. Another was seen fleeing into wasteland near the house; a police dog with a mounted camera was sent after him, but ran back when the man began firing at it. 

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said: “During the course of a search, a team of French and Belgian police officers came under fire, clearly from heavy weapons.”

One of the officers was said to be in a serious condition after being shot in the head. Staff and children at nearby schools and day-care centres that were within the initial police perimeter were told to stay indoors before being able to evacuate. 

Employees at the nearby Audi assembly plant were told to stay put while police marksmen climbed on the factory roof. The Audi factory is located alongside the rail line taken by Eurostar trains to London, and trains to Paris.

Manhunt in Brussels

Although the police were armed and wearing bullet-proof jackets, they had not anticipated resistance when they raided the address. Officials said they expected it to be empty, like the apartment in Schaerbeek, in eastern Brussels, where Abdeslam’s prints were found, along with three handmade belts for possible use in suicide attacks and traces of explosives.

Brussels was locked down for four days after the Paris attacks – with schools, metros and shopping centres closed – as officials warned that the city was at risk of major terrorist incident. 

While officials said there was no need to consider another lockdown after the raid on 15 March, they asked journalists and the public not to publish details of the operation on social media.

Brussels has maintained a high state of security alert since last November, with soldiers on guard around key buildings and military patrols.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks was a Brussels resident, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 28, who was killed in a raid in St Denis, five days after the Paris attacks. Another, Bilal Hadfi, 20, who blew himself up outside the Stade de France, was said to have lived for a time in the Forest area.

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