Soldiers fanned out to guard possible terror targets across Belgium Saturday, as France and other European nations remained on high alert a day after police raids netted dozens of terrorism suspects across the continent.
Buildings within the Jewish quarter of the port city of Antwerp are among those being protected by the army – the first time in 30 years it has been deployed to reinforce police in Belgium’s cities.
“You don’t have the firepower to stop people with weapons of warfare, unless troops are involved", Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever said. “We have an important Jewish community in this city which is very visible and an important target for Islamic terror,” he told the VRT network.
Belgium has increased its terror warning to 3, the second-highest, following anti-terror raids on Thursday which left two suspects dead and led to the seizure of four Kalashnikov assault rifles, hand guns and explosives.
Several police uniforms were also found, which Belgian authorities said suggested the plotters had intended to masquerade as police officers.
Further arrests in France, Germany and Ireland meant a total of at least 30 suspects were put behind bars on Thursday and Friday as the continent steps up its anti-terrorism efforts in the wake of last week’s attacks in Paris.
Charlie Hebdo gunman buried
In France, an official disclosed that Said Kouachi, one of the gunmen who attacked the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, had been quietly buried.
After an initial refusal, the mayor of Reims said he was forced to backtrack and allow the burial.
Mayor Arnaud Robinet said the government had insisted he allow the elder Kouachi brother to be buried in Reims. According to French law, residents of a town have the right to be buried there.
“He was buried last night, in the most discreet, anonymous way possible,” Robinet said in an interview on French television channel BFM TV. Robinet said he didn’t know where Kouachi was buried in the cemetery, which he didn’t identify.
Kouachi and his brother Chérif were killed by French counter-terrorism police January 9 after they killed 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. Chérif Kouachi is to be buried in Gennevilliers, a suburb of Paris where he lived, the city said in a statement Friday.
Authorities said a third gunman, Amédy Coulibaly, killed five people including four hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris before he was killed by police. There has been no word of plans for his burial.
France remains on the highest security alert level following the attacks, with 122,000 police and well-armed troops deployed to protect the country.
Illustrating the sense of high anxiety, a bomb scare forced Paris to evacuate its busy Gare de l’Est train station during Friday’s morning rush hour, though no explosives were found. A man also briefly took two hostages at a post office northwest of Paris, but police said the hostage-taker had mental issues and no links to terror.
Remarking on the heavy weapons carried by policemen close to the Louvre, 20-year-old Mimi George, a student visiting from Australia, said: “Just seeing huge machine gun rifles is quite scary.”
UK mulls measures to protect police
In the UK, authorities were mulling "further measures" to protect police "given some of the deliberate targeting of the police we have seen in a number of countries across Europe and the world," said Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism for the British police.
British police officers, for the most part unarmed, might be equipped with taser guns as part of reinforced security measures, according to the local press.
Britain is also to step up police patrols in areas with high Jewish populations, Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday, while warning that it was impossible to provide "100 percent protection".
Cameron was speaking in Washington, where he is meeting US President Barack Obama. The pair have vowed to help France and others defeat global terrorism with stronger cooperation and surveillance.
"We will continue to do everything in our power to help France seek the justice that is needed... to defeat these terrorist networks," Obama said.
Authorities have said there was no apparent link between the foiled plots in Belgium and last week’s terror attacks in Paris. However, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Friday that while there was no apparent operational connection between the two terror groups, “the link that exists is the will to attack our values”.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-01-17