Belgian police searching for 10 suspects thought to be plotting Paris-style attack with heavy weapons and 'suicide bombs'

Intelligence indicates commercial and shopping centres were targets rather than schools or metros

Leo Cendrowicz,John Lichfield
Wednesday 25 November 2015 21:33
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Belgium soldiers patrol near the Crescend'eau shopping center in Vervier
Belgium soldiers patrol near the Crescend'eau shopping center in Vervier

Belgium is searching for about 10 individuals thought to be plotting a Paris-style attack with heavy weapons and “suicide bombs”, it has emerged, as hospitals in Brussels were put on alert over potential infiltrators.

The Belgian Foreign Minister, Didier Reynders, revealed to US broadcaster ABC that the 10 being sought could be armed with Kalashnikov rifles or “maybe more than that”. He said intelligence indicated commercial and shopping centres were targets rather than schools or metros, which reopened in Brussels on 25 November.

He was speaking as emergency team managers were told to watch their equipment, vehicles and IDs carefully when responding to emergencies. “You are requested to pay careful attention to avoid the theft of clothing or material,” said the memo from Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Health Minister Maggie De Block. Brussels has been under its highest security alert level since 21 November, when the Prime Minister, Charles Michel, warned of a “serious and imminent threat”.

A police car patrols near a school in Brussels

Children in Brussels went back to school on 25 November and the city’s metro reopened as the capital attempted to return to its normal routine. But despite the heavily armed police and around 1,200 soldiers on the streets, residents remained jittery.

“It’s scarier than it was during the Nazi occupation,” said Marie, 89, walking her dog. “In the Second World War, we knew what was happening. We don’t know now.”

One mother, Anne, taking her 18-month-old son to a local creche, said she was anxious leaving him during the day. “I’m worried, yes. It’s scary. But we can’t hide all our lives,” she said.

Schools in Brussels reopen after four days of lockdown

The city’s 160 schools reopened with 300 extra police stationed around them. A further 200 soldiers guarded the public transport system. Universities, cinemas, museums and concert halls also reopened.

Lazez Abraimi, 39, arrested in Brussels on 19 November on suspicion of helping fugitive Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam, will remain in custody for another month, a Brussels court said. Police discovered guns and a blood trail in his car, but his lawyer said he had explained both findings to investigators. “The blood does not belong to Salah, but to someone else,” said his lawyer, Sokol Vljahen.

Mohamed Abrini was filmed on November 11 driving a Renault Clio car that was used two days later in the Paris attacks

Another suspect, Mohamed Abrini, was known by intelligence services to have joined rebels in Syria before returning to Belgium, it emerged. Belgium issued an international arrest warrant for Abrini on 24 November, describing him as “dangerous and probably armed”.

In France, the government has begun counting the economic cost of the Paris attacks: the finance ministry estimates the country will lose €2bn – or 0.1 per cent of GDP – from the collapse of tourism and a steep fall in shopping and visits to restaurants, bars and museums. Hotels and other tourist-dependent businesses are estimated to lose around 30 per cent.

27 November has been declared a day of mourning and homage for the 130 people murdered in Paris. President François Hollande will lead a secular ceremony of remembrance at the Invalides.

Brussels football team Anderlecht will play their home match against Oud-Heverlee Leuven on 29 November behind closed doors, as will Bruges side, Club Brugge in tonight’s Europa League game against Napoli.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray, in Ghent for Great Britain’s Davis Cup final against Belgium this weekend, insisted that his team felt “safe and secure” despite the threat level. “You have to try and live life as normal,” said Murray.

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