Belgian terror alerts raised
12 March 2004
BRUSSELS – The Belgian government and the European Union institutions both said on Friday that they have raised their terror alert levels in the wake of the devastating bomb attacks in Madrid.
European Union officials said already tight security measures around the EU’s key institutions in Brussels have been stepped up even further.
Later this month, EU leaders will gather at the Council of Ministers headquarters in Brussels for a regular summit meeting.
Such events always prove a major headache for the security services as they bring together so many potential terrorism targets in a single place. But following Thursday’s attacks in Madrid, analysts say the forthcoming summit meeting March 25 and 26 is likely to have some of the tightest security restrictions an EU meeting has ever seen.
A unnamed Council of Ministers official cited by French television station FR2 also said on Friday that the security services would pay close attention to continuing efforts to find out who was behind the Madrid bombs, which left at least 198 people dead and around 1,400 wounded.
The official was quoted as saying the risk for the EU institutions would be greater if an Islamic fundamentalist terror group, such as Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network, turned out to be the attacks’ perpetrator.
At present no one is sure who planted the bombs. The Spanish government still seems to favour the theory that the attacks were the work of Basque separatist group ETA.
But other terror experts say Al Qaeda could be to blame.
The head of Europol, the EU police agency certainly wasn’t ruling out a possible Al Qaeda connection on Thursday.
“Perhaps it was ETA. But this was an attack that doesn not correspond to their the modus operandi,” the police chief told reporters.
Other supporters of the Al Qaeda theory point to a letter purporting to have come from the terror group that was published in London-based Arabic daily al-Quds al-Arabi.
Meanwhile, the Belgian government said on Friday that it too had increased security measures in the wake of the Madrid attacks.
Interior Minister Patrick Dewael said police protection around Spanish consulates and embassies in Belgium had been stepped up.
He also said the security forces had put in place new “visible and hidden” measures to protect ordinary Belgian citizens.
Many politicians, security experts and newspaper commentators across Europe said on Thursday that the Madrid attacks could mark the beginning of a new wave of continent-wide terrorist activity.
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt even called on this month’s EU summit to set up an Union-wide intelligence agency that could track terror suspects by pooling information from Europe’s different national secret services.
In the past other EU governments have poured cold water on such ideas, citing national security concerns.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Belgian news