Belgium charged three people with terrorism offences on Saturday following sweeping nationwide police raids prompted by fears of an imminent attack.
The three Belgian nationals were charged with attempting to commit "terrorist murder" and with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, Belgium’s federal prosecutor said in a statement.
Named as Samir C., Moustapha B. and Jawad B., the trio were among 12 people detained during the raids. The other nine were released.
Forty people were initially taken in for questioning as raids took place in 16 locations in Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia overnight Saturday.
Homes as well as 152 garages were searched during the raids which the prosecutor's office said “passed off without incident”.
According to the prosecutor's statement, the raids were conducted following the results of an investigation that “necessitated an immediate intervention”, indicating a violent attack was likely planned in the near future.
Belgian media said the threat may have been linked to the Belgium football team’s Euro 2016 match with Ireland taking place Saturday afternoon, with supporters watching the game in public places possible targets.
Broadcaster RTBF reported that several of the individuals targeted in the raids had been under surveillance for several days and on Friday had been spotted in a car in the centre of Brussels near the Place Rogier, the site of a fan zone and a giant screen for those watching the matches.
Prime Minister Charles Michel said the nation would remain "extremely vigilant, hour by hour”.
"It will be the case in the coming hours that we will take additional and adapted [security] measures," said Michel after a meeting of the nation's security council. He refused to elaborate on the nature of the threat.
Molenbeek and Zaventem raided
Belgium is still reeling from suicide bombings carried out by the Islamic State (IS) group at Brussels airport and on the city's metro on March 22, which killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more.
The Brussels attacks came five months after jihadists, many of them from Brussels, carried out gun and bombing attacks in Paris on November 13, killing 130 people.
The latest raids targeted several areas tied to those attacks.
Officers in Flanders moved on the town of Zaventem, close to the Brussels airport, while there were raids in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek – the neighbourhood where Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the 10-man jihadist team that attacked Paris, grew up and later hid out for months until his dramatic arrest on March 18.
One of the searches in Wallonia was conducted in the area of Fleurus close to Charleroi airport – the country's second international air hub – and a region that also hosts part of the country's nuclear industry.
Security increased for politicians
France, which is hosting the Euro 2016 football championships, is on maximum alert after an assailant previously convicted for jihadism killed a police officer and his partner on Monday.
Belgian media reported on Wednesday that police had warned that IS group fighters had recently left Syria to carry out attacks.
"They would separate into two groups, one for Belgium, the other for France, to attack in pairs. According to the information received these people are in possession of the necessary armament and their actions are imminent," an official document revealed by La Dernière Heure newspaper stated.
On Saturday, a source close to Belgian authorities told AFP that several leading Belgian political figures have recently had their security increased.
According to RTBF and daily Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Prime Minister Charles Michel, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens, are among a group of 30 people who, along with their families, have had their personal security stepped up since Friday.
RTBF added that there is no link to the most recent raids.
Despite the disclosures, Belgium's terror level remains at level three meaning that an attack is considered "possible and probable". The highest, level four, would mean that the threat is "serious and imminent".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
Date created : 2016-06-18