Brussels: Belgian police shot a suspect as part of a huge European terror crackdown that netted several arrests yesterday as France’s president said a jihadist network that targeted both Paris and Brussels was being “destroyed”.
A bomb squad agent and a robot stand next to a suspicious object at a tramway station yesterday in Schaerbeek suburb, Brussels. Pic/AFP
Grieving Belgians held prayers in the rain in a central Brussels square carpeted with flowers and tributes to the 31 dead and 300 wounded in Tuesday’s carnage, but there was also growing anger at the government for letting a string of militants slip through the net.
The Eiffel Tower illuminated in colours of the Belgian flag in tribute to the victims of terrorist attacks in Brussels. Pic/AFP
The raids came as under-fire Belgian investigators uncovered alarming new evidence of a European jihadist cell tied to bombings at Brussels’ airport and metro, November’s Paris attacks and a new French plot.
As US officials confirmed two Americans were among the Brussels dead, Secretary of State John Kerry said he stood by the Belgian people, 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, after meeting Belgian Premier Charles Michel.
European authorities are under huge pressure to better coordinate the tracking of homegrown extremists and fighters returning from Syria, as evidence grows of a thriving jihadist network straddling France and Belgium.
French President Francois Hollande said the jihadist network behind the Paris and Brussels attacks was “being destroyed” but warned that other terror cells remain. French police said they had foiled a terror strike by 34-year-old Reda Kriket — a man previously convicted in Belgium in a terror case alongside Paris attacks ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud — after arresting him and discovering explosives at his home.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the arrest “foiled a planned attack in France, which was at an advanced stage.”
Belgian police later arrested three people in connection with the new French conspiracy, prosecutors said. In dramatic scenes, one of the suspects was shot in the leg at a tram stop in a huge operation by police in Schaerbeek district, where police this week found a bomb factory linked to the Brussels attacks.
Bombers were on US terrorism lists
The brothers who carried out the airport and metro suicide bombings in Brussels were known to US authorities and listed in American terrorism databases. Two unnamed US officials said Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui were listed as a “potential terror threat” in US databases but that they would not specify on “which of the many US terrorism databases the brothers were listed.”