Belgian police arrest three linked to foiled Paris terror plot
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Belgian police arrested three people in Brussels Friday linked to a plot to launch a terror attack on Paris foiled by French security forces the day before, authorities said.
One unnamed suspect was arrested following a dramatic raid in the Brussels borough of Schaerbeek early on Friday afternoon, with heavily armed police and military with trucks cordoning off an area around a major intersection.
Several explosions were heard coming from the area.
"I can confirm a police operation targeting a person who was intercepted by police and suffered a slight leg injury," Schaerbeek Mayor Bernard Clerfayt told AFP.
He added that there had been several small explosions linked to bomb disposal work.
Belgian public broadcaster RTBF said the suspect had been found to be in possession of a suitcase full of explosives.
Witnesses told local media police had shot the man in the leg at a tram stop after he failed to respond to their orders. One witness told RTBF the man had a girl of about eight with him.
“I heard two explosions, they were shooting. I opened the window and saw a man lying near the tram stop. The police ordered him to show his hands, remove his jacket. They said that if he did not comply, they would use their weapons,” a witness who lives nearby told La Libre newspaper.
Video from the scene showed the man lying on his side, shattered glass from the tram shelter smashed by bullets at his feet. A bomb squad robot approached the wounded man, checking for explosives.
Two others with suspected links to the foiled Paris plot, named as Tawfik A and Salah A, were also arrested in separate operations Friday, a statement from the prosecutor’s office said.
The operations in Brussels follow the arrest of a French national in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil on Thursday who authorities suspect of being involved in a plot to attack the French capital.
The suspect has been named as Reda Kriket, a 34-year-old sentenced to 10 years in Brussels in absentia in July as part of an Islamist recruiting network dubbed the Syrian Connection.
According to France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, the terror plot had been in its “advanced stages” before being foiled by French police.
A police source said investigators found acetone peroxide explosives in an apartment in a Paris suburb after the arrest.
Hunt for Brussels attackers
Six people were also arrested in Brussels on Thursday over the jihadist attacks in the Belgian capital, targeting the city’s airport and the metro, that left 31 dead earlier this week.
Prosecutors said Friday that three of those taken into custody have now been released but that they were still holding Faycal C, Abou A and a third unnamed person.
A person familiar with the investigation in Belgium said one of the people arrested there was believed to be a suspected accomplice caught on security camera footage with the metro station bomber.
“We have strong indications that this is the suspect who was hunted for the last couple of days. The identification is still ongoing,” the source said. However he said those arrested did not include a third suspect seen on video alongside the two who blew themselves up at the airport.
Investigators believe those responsible for Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, claimed by the Islamic State group and the worst such attack in Belgian history, are part of the same cell that carried out November’s deadly attacks in Paris that killed 130.
Many of those involved in the attacks on the French capital had links to Brussels, including Salah Abdeslam, the sole surviving participant of the Paris attacks, who was arrested in Brussels last Friday.
Meanwhile, Naijm Laachraoui, identified as one of the suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the Brussels airport on Tuesday, is a veteran Belgian Islamist fighter in Syria suspected of making explosive belts for November's Paris attacks.
Following Friday’s arrests, French President François Hollande said the Islamist militant network behind attacks in Paris and Brussels is being destroyed, but there remain other cells that continue to pose a threat.
“We know that there are other networks. Even if the one behind the attacks in Paris and Brussels is in the process of being wiped out, a threat continues to remain,” Hollande said ahead of a meeting with former Israeli President Shimon Peres.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)