Brussels locked down as Paris attacks suspect on the run

23rd November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Europe's capital Brussels was locked down for a third day under maximum terror alert Monday, with schools and the metro closed after Belgian police raids failed to track down key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said Brussels, a diplomatic and business hub home to the European Union and NATO, faced a "serious and imminent" threat of attacks similar to those claimed by Islamic State jihadists which left 130 people dead across Paris.

Amid intense efforts to forge a coordinated international response, British Prime Minister David Cameron offered French President Francois Hollande full support in the fight against IS.

"I firmly support the action President Hollande has taken to strike ISIL in Syria," Cameron said after talks in Paris, using another acronym for IS.

"It's my firm conviction that Britain should do so too," he said, offering France the use of a British airbase in Cyprus for strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq.

Britain has joined in US-led attacks on IS in Iraq but so far Cameron has failed to get parliamentary support for sorties into Syria.

"We have joint obligations," Hollande said.

The two leaders earlier laid a wreath at the Bataclan concert venue in Paris where 90 people, including a British man, died on November 13.

- Police raids net 16 -

Belgian police on Sunday carried out 19 raids in Brussels and three in the industrial town of Charleroi, detaining 16 people but failing to find Salah Abdeslam, prosecutors said.

"Salah Abdeslam was not caught during the raids," federal prosecutor spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told reporters just after midnight, meaning Europe's most wanted man remains at large.

Abdeslam's elder brother Brahim blew himself up outside a Paris bar in the November 13 attacks and the 26-year-old is suspected of playing a key role in the massacre.

Another brother, Mohamed, on Sunday urged Salah to give himself up as only that way would his own family, and those of the victims, find an answer to the suffering he had help inflict.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon told Belgian radio: "The operation is not finished. We will continue until we clean up this mess."

Asked about Salah Abdeslam, Jambon said he could not give operational details but pledged there would be no let up in the manhunt.

"The actions will continue in the coming hours. Everybody knows there is a certain danger with him, so yes, he is an important target."

- People going to work -

Armed police and troops patrolled the near-deserted streets of the tense capital all weekend after the government raised the terror alert to the highest level of four in the city.

They were out in force again on Monday but people were trying to go about their daily lives as normally as possible in the circumstances.

Traffic was relatively light in the centre of the city and many people opted to cycle to work.

In the normally bustling historic Grande Place, a few bars and restaurants were open for business but it was hard going to get customers.

Buses were running, if crowded and subject to delay as some drivers stayed at home due to the school closures, the Brussels transport authority said.

The European Union and NATO both said they would bolster security and urged non-essential staff to work from home on Monday.

The rest of the country, including Brussels airport, remains on security alert level three, meaning an attack is considered possible and the threat credible.

Officials were due to review the situation again later Monday.

French police meanwhile released a photo of the third of three men who blew themselves up outside France's national stadium.

The man in the picture passed through Greece with one of the other suicide bombers, carrying a Syrian passport in the name of Mohammad al-Mahmod, a source close to the investigation said.

- 'All necessary measures' -

Hollande's meeting with Cameron Monday was just the start of a diplomatic offensive to forge a broad anti-IS coalition.

After Cameron, the French leader was due to meet US President Barack Obama on Tuesday and then Germany's Angela Merkel and Russia's Vladimir Putin on the subsequent two days.

The UN Security Council on Friday authorised "all necessary measures" to fight jihadist violence after a wave of deadly attacks, including the downing of a Russian aircraft in Egypt with the loss of 224 lives and the storming of a luxury hotel in Mali that left 19 dead.

Meanwhile, Eagles of Death Metal, the Californian band that was playing at the Bataclan, spoke for the first time since the attacks, with singer Jesse Hughes saying that many fans died trying to protect their friends.

"So many people put themselves in front of people," he said in an excerpt of an interview with Vice News.

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© 2015 AFP

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