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france 24 Europe

Anti-terror operations ongoing in Brussels, says PM

© Laurie Dieffembacq, Belga, AFP | Police and special forces at the site of a shooting in the southern Forest district of Brussels on March 15, 2016

Video by Josh VARDEY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-03-16

A Belgian anti-terror operation linked to the November 13 Paris attacks is continuing, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Wednesday, a day after police killed a suspect during a raid on a Brussels apartment.

"Police operations are continuing," Michel said without confirming press reports that police were hunting for two fugitives.

The prime minister's comments came a day after one or more people opened fire on Belgian and French police officers as they conducted what they had expected to be a routine search of an apartment in a suburban side street in southern Brussels. Some of those involved in the November 13 bombings and shootings in Paris lived or were based in the Belgian capital.

Three officers, including a French policewoman, were lightly wounded and a fourth was hurt during a subsequent exchange of fire. When police stormed the building three hours after the first raid, they killed an unidentified individual wielding a Kalashnikov—a gun used by some of the Islamic State (IS) group militants in Paris.

“We have escaped a tragedy,” Michel said, noting that none of the four wounded police officers was seriously hurt.

Ministers said the presence of French police at the scene was a “coincidence”, not an indication that the initial search had been expected to provide a major break in the case.

The shooting prompted a lockdown in a wide area around the house in the rue du Dries that lasted for hours until police began escorting children from schools and kindergartens after dark, and some 50 who had taken shelter in a supermarket.

Residents were later allowed to return to homes behind the cordon.

Around 5pm (1600 GMT), Reuters journalists heard gunshots as police commandos crowded into the street where the raid unfolded. DH newspaper said a suspect was shot dead after being spotted from a police helicopter in a nearby garden.

Belgian connection

Investigators believe much of the planning and preparation for the November bombing and shooting rampage in Paris was conducted in Brussels by young French and Belgian nationals, some of whom fought in Syria for the Islamic State group.

The attack strained relations between Brussels and Paris, with French officials suggesting Belgium was lax in monitoring the activities of hundreds of militants returned from Syria.

Belgian security forces have been actively hunting suspects and associates of the militants involved in the Paris attacks.

One of the prime suspects, 26-year-old Brussels-based Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, is still on the run. He left Paris hours after his brother blew himself up outside a cafe. Belgian authorities are holding 10 people who have been arrested in the months since the attacks, mostly for helping Abdeslam.

Belgian public television quoted French police sources as saying Abdeslam had not been the target of Tuesday’s raid.

Brussels, headquarters of the European Union as well as Western military alliance NATO, was entirely locked down for days shortly after the Paris attacks for fear of a major incident there. Brussels has maintained a high state of security alert since then, with military patrols a regular sight.

Soldiers were on streets in central Brussels on Tuesday as the operation continued.

Belgium, with a Muslim population of about 5 percent among its 11 million people, has the highest rate in Europe of citizens joining Islamist militants in Syria.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-03-16

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