Six people were arrested Thursday in a series of police raids in Brussels, federal prosecutors said, two days after Tuesday's terrorist attacks in the Belgian capital left 31 dead and 300 injured.
Reporting from Brussels early Friday, FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent said police operations were ongoing across the city. “Last night, six people were called in for questioning, three of them were apprehended right outside the federal prosecutor’s office in the centre of Brussels,” said Norris-Trent. “Apparently, the three people were in a car, there’s no word on their identities yet.”
The arrests came as Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel on Thursday refused to accept the resignations of the interior and justice ministers, who have been severely criticised for allowing the attackers—at least three of whom were known to authorities—to slip through the net.
Brussels metro attack victim 'so happy' to be home
Meanwhile US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Brussels Friday for counter-terrorism talks with EU and Belgian officials and to pay his respects to the victims of this week's attacks.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Michel, Kerry declared, "Je suis Bruxellois"— "I am a citizen of Brussels"— in support for the people of the Belgian capital, echoing their backing for the United States after the 9/11 terror attacks.
"Then, voices across Europe declared, 'Je suis Americain.' Now, we declare, 'Je suis Bruxellois' and 'Ik ben Brussel',” Kerry said in French and Flemish, the country's two main languages
Kerry landed at the still-closed Brussels airport for a brief, hastily scheduled stop from Moscow, where he said the attacks underscored the urgency of unity in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group. The group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's bombings at the airport departure terminal and a downtown metro station that killed 31 people and wounded 300.
On his five-hour visit Kerry will meet with Michel as well as European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders as well as King Philippe. He will also lay a wreath at a memorial site at the airport for attack victims.
‘Our love for Brussels is stronger than terror’
Hundreds of people gathered late into the night at the Place de la Bourse in Brussels to mourn the victims of the suicide attacks on the city’s airport and metro on Tuesday.
“Our love for Brussels is stronger than terror,” read a banner held by a young couple.
Led by King Philippe, Belgians also observed a minute of silence on the third and final day of mourning.
Abdeslam ‘didn’t know’
With criticism growing that international authorities failed to follow links between Tuesday’s bombings and the November 13 Paris attacks, key Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam insisted he was unaware of plans to strike the Belgian capital.
Police arrested Abdeslam in Brussels last week, after he spent four months on the run as the sole surviving participant of the Paris attacks, in which 130 people were killed.
"Shouldn't there be hearings on the intelligence failure?"
Abdeslam’s lawyer Sven Mary said Thursday his client now did not want to fight extradition to Paris and insisted he “didn’t know” in advance about the Brussels attacks.
But Belgium is reeling from revelations that three of the Brussels attackers—including Ibrahim El-Bakraoui and his brother Khalid, who bombed Maelbeek metro station—were known to police and had strong links to Abdeslam.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens both tendered their resignations over the claims that Ibrahim El-Bakraoui had slipped through the net despite being arrested by Turkey near the Syrian border and deported to the Netherlands.
“There were errors at Justice and with the (Belgian) liaison officer in Turkey,” Jambon was quoted as telling the Le Soir daily.
Prosecutors meanwhile confirmed that Khalid El-Bakraoui was the subject of an international warrant for terrorism in relation to the Paris attacks and had rented out a flat used by the Paris cell in the Belgian city of Charleroi.
Belgian authorities are now seeking a new suspect with a large bag captured on CCTV talking to Khalid El-Bakraoui at Maelbeek station, who then did not get on to the train with the bomber, according to police sources.
Attacks ‘not a surprise’
A huge manhunt was still going on for a third attacker whose bomb failed to go off at Brussels airport, a man wearing a hat seen on security footage.
Raids took place early Friday in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek where the three airport attackers left from on Tuesday morning carrying three explosive-packed suitcases. One man has been arrested.
'Crisis at heart of Belgium govt'
Over the border in France on Thursday, police arrested a man in the Paris area who was in “the advanced stages” of a plot to attack France, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
Cazeneuve said the man, a French national, belonged to a terrorist network but added there was “no tangible evidence linking the plot to either the attacks in Paris or Brussels”.
Belgium on Thursday lowered its terror alert to the second highest level for the first time since the attacks, but soldiers still guarded key sites, streets were eerily quiet and public transport shut down again in the early evening.
EU justice and interior ministers convened in Brussels for an emergency meeting to show “solidarity” to Belgium and work out a plan to address the threat to Europe posed by jihadists.
“The attacks did not come as a surprise,” said European Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, calling on EU nations to push through plans to share the names of all air passengers.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)
Date created : 2016-03-25