Isis 'recruitment cell' uncovered in counter-terror police raids in Belgium

Ten suspects were arrested in raids in Molenbeek and other areas of Brussels

Lizzie Dearden@lizziedearden
Tuesday 16 February 2016 10:39
Police conducted searches on Tuesday across Brussels (file photo)
Police conducted searches on Tuesday across Brussels (file photo)

A suspected Isis recruitment cell has been uncovered by a counter-terrorism operation in Brussels.

Belgium’s federal prosecutor said the raids, which saw 10 people arrested, were not directly related to the Paris attacks in November.

Armed police stormed nine properties early on Tuesday morning in the districts of Molenbeek, Koekelberg, Schaerbeek and Etterbeek on the orders of a judge.

Police officers are pictured as police conduct new searches linked to the November 13 Paris terrorist attacks, on December 30, 2015, in Molenbeek, Brussels.

“The searches were executed as part of an investigation into a recruiting network linked to the Islamic State (Isis),” a spokesperson for the federal prosecutor’s office said.

“The investigation was able to reveal that several people journeyed to Syria to join the Islamic State.”

The 10 people arrested are being interrogated by counter-terror officers from Liege and a judge will decide whether to free them later today.

Phones and computer equipment seized during the searches are also being examined.

Revelations that several of the Isis militants who killed 130 people in shooting attacks and suicide bombings across Paris in November had links to Brussels, and particularly the suburb of Molenbeek, sparked several continuing investigations.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was Belgian and reportedly met fugitive Salah Abdeslam in prison.

His brother, Brahim Abdeslam, was also among the Paris attackers and the trio lived in Molenbeek, where the Abdeslams ran a bar.

Two arrested over Brussels New Year plot

The suburb has been linked with terrorism since the 1990s, when al-Qaeda supporters were based there. One of the 2004 Madrid train bombers had ties to the area, as did Jewish Museum shooter Mehdi Nemmouche and Paris hostage taker Amedy Coulibaly.

Authorities are still hunting Abdeslam and searching for possible accomplices to the Paris attackers after a string of safe houses were discovered across Belgium, which remains on high alert.

Brussels went into lockdown because of intelligence suggesting further attacks in November and cancelled its New Year celebrations after another terror plot was revealed.

Belgium is believed to have the highest number of extremists fighting for Isis in Iraq and Syria per capita in western Europe, with numbers estimated at around 500.

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