As Brussels enters its third day under its highest terrorism alert level, a request from authorities not to disclose details about police activity on social media has sparked an innovative response from Twitter users.
Cat pictures have inundated the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown in an attempt to make it harder for suspects to uncover information about anti-terror measures, after Belgium police asked social media users to stop tweeting details of a police operation on Sunday evening that could have alerted suspects.
Tweets have ranged from the cute to the comical, including pictures of “main suspect” cats, cats posing as Belgium's National Security Council and cats disobeying police advice to stay away from windows.
The tweets are understood to be an ironic reference to the city’s newly raised security level, now on four, which translates to Quatre in French– pronounced "cat".
According to AFP, it is believed the idea was conceived by a cameraman for the Dutch television channel NOS, Hugo Janssen, who tweeted: "Instead of tweets about police activity in Brussels, here's a picture of our cat Mozart".
Brussels has been under lockdown for three days, during which the underground network, schools and universities have been closed.
Federal prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said police “want to thank the press and social media users because they took the need of this operation into account.”
Belgium’s Crisis Centre tweeted: “Thanks to the media and citizens for their silence online as asked during the juridical intervention tonight.”
Par sécurité, veuillez respecter le silence radio sur les médias sociaux concernant les opérations de police en cours à #Bruxelles. Merci— Police Fédérale (@PolFed_presse) November 22, 2015
Thanks to the media and citizens for their silence online as asked during the juridicial intervention tonight #BrusselsLockdown— CrisisCenter Belgium (@CrisiscenterBE) November 22, 2015
Police have failed to find the prime suspect, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, who has been on the run since fleeing Paris. Authorities fear he may have returned to Brussels, his home city, to launch new attacks.
The Belgian government has advised people to avoid crowds in the capital, while museums, cinemas and shopping centres have been closed.
Brussels' chief rabbi said the city's synagogues were also shut over the weekend for the first time since World War Two.
Additional reporting from various agencies