Belgium ‘hostage siege’ may have been false alarm
Belgian police surrounded an apartment in the city of Ghent on Monday after reports that armed men were holding a hostage, but the incident may have been a false alarm, officials said.
Prosecutors initially said that four armed men had taken a captive at the property in a working-class area of the northwestern city, adding that there were no indications of terrorism.
“We are examining whether there was a hostage-taking,” said Annemie Serlippens, the spokeswoman for the Ghent prosecutor, adding that reports of hostages were taken “very seriously” initially.
She said that the incident — in which more than a dozen armed police officers set up a perimeter around the building — appeared linked to drugs.
The alarm was initially raised by a man who called police saying that he had seen “four men with Kalashnikovs” taking his friend hostage, Serlippens told reporters at the scene.
“But so far we have no indications of the presence of any Kalashnikovs or of armed people here,” she said.
“The presumed victim denied being taken hostage in the initial reports to police.”
Public VRT Flemish-language television reported that three suspects had surrendered to police after leaving the building, but Serlippens said there had been no arrests.
A witness said a man came into her shop asking for help that morning.
“He said, ‘Call the police, there are four people in my apartment, they put a gun to my head and my friend’s still there, he’s sleeping,’” shopkeeper Carine Malfait told journalists. “So I called the police.”
Belgian authorities had earlier said there was no link to a hostage-taking going on at the same time in Sydney, Australia, where more than 20 people were held in a cafe.