Brussels reviews security alert, hunts 'several' suspects

22nd November 2015, Comments 0 comments

The Belgian capital was locked down for a second day Sunday with police and troops on the streets as authorities reviewed whether to extend a security alert meant to prevent a repeat of the bloody Paris attacks.

With the world on edge over the jihadist threat, US President Barack Obama said the most powerful tool to fight the Islamic State extremist group was to say "that we are not afraid".

In Paris, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a chemical or biological attack "was among the risks" faced but that all possible precautions had been taken.

Belgian officials were due to meet later Sunday to review the security alert in Brussels, imposed over fears jihadists were plotting similar attacks to those in Paris which left 130 people dead on November 13.

The city's metro system and public buildings were closed, with shops and restaurants following suit after the terror alert was raised to the highest level of four because of what officials said Saturday was an "imminent threat."

Central Brussels, usually bustling, was virtually deserted, with police and troops on patrol.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon said the authorities were looking not just for Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam who managed to slip past French security forces after the carnage in the City of Light.

- 'Exceptional measures' -

He warned that the capture of Abdeslam, a Belgian-born 26-year-old whose brother Brahim blew himself up at a cafe in Paris, would not in itself end the threat.

"It involves several suspects and that is why we have put in place such exceptional measures," the Belga news agency cited Jambon as telling Flemish television.

Justice Minister Koen Geens said in a separate Belga report he expected the metro to re-open on Monday "if all passes off normally ... We are not going to paralyse Brussels economically."

Belgium and the capital, home to the European Union and NATO, are no strangers to Islamist violence.

Four people were shot dead at the Brussels Jewish museum last year, and in January security forces killed two suspects linked to the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris.

The UN Security Council on Friday authorised nations to "take all necessary measures" to fight jihadist violence after a wave of 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 which left 19 dead.

'Terrorism knows no borders' -

Obama said Sunday he would press ahead with a visit to Paris for UN climate talks in December, calling on world leaders to show similar resolve.

"I think it's absolutely vital for every country, every leader, to send a signal that the viciousness of a handful of killers does not stop the world from doing vital business," he said.

"The most powerful tool we have to fight ISIL is to say that we're not afraid."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Mali attack, in which six Russians died, showed terrorism was a global threat which must be confronted "with the broadest international cooperation."

French President Francois Hollande next week meets a series of world leaders, including Obama and Putin alongside Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's David Cameron to discuss what can be done to counter the IS threat.

In Turkey, police arrested a Belgian of Moroccan origin in the resort of Antalya, the site of last week's G20 summit, along with two other suspects, probably Syrians.

Ahmet Dahmani, 26, reportedly scouted out targets for the Paris attacks, which saw gunmen and suicide bombers target bars, restaurants, a rock concert and the national football stadium.

The suspected ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, died in a massive police raid in Paris on Wednesday along with his cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen, reportedly a one-time party girl who turned to radical Islam about six months ago.

Abaaoud was a notorious Belgian jihadist thought to be fighting in Syria and his presence in Europe has raised troubling questions about a Europe-wide breakdown in intelligence and border security.

Questions remain too over what role Salah Abdeslam -- who used to run a bar with his brother Brahim in Brussels -- played in the bloodshed.

A third brother, Mohamed Abdeslam told RTBF television Sunday he believed Salah had changed his mind at the last moment and had not gone through with the attack.

Mohamed Abdeslam said the family wanted Salah to give himself up.

"That way he can give us the answers we seek, our family and the families of the victims," he said, adding: "We would rather see Salah in prison than in the cemetery."

Salah Abdeslam may be equipped with a suicide belt, according to Hamza Attou, one of two suspects charged by Belgian authorities for allegedly helping him return to the country after the attacks.

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© 2015 AFP

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