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False bomb alerts: perpetrator arrested

A man, claiming to speak in the name of al-Qaeda, made several calls to report bombs at Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels-Central Station.

The man made several calls Friday evening to report bombs at Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels Central Station. The bomb alerts disrupted train traffic for hours. Several stations were closed and searched but no explosives were found. The Leuven police were able to track down the anonymous caller

The train station in Antwerp was also closed for a while Peter Mertens, spokesman for the government’s Crisis Centre which deals with security alerts told journalists, "Police carried out sweeps at all four stations and found nothing. After analyzing the phone calls, the conclusion has been reached that there is no link with al-Qaeda and that the caller probably is psychologically unstable."

The police in Leuven were able to trace the telephone calls and find the anonymous caller. The perpetrator is a 33 year old man who lives in the psychiatric institution in Bierbeek (in Flemish Brabant province, between Leuven and Brussels).

The bomb alerts disrupted train traffic for a few hours all over Belgium, including international train traffic.

There are hefty legal consequences for false bomb alerts. The man risks a jail sentence of between three months and two years, a fine, and the bill to pay for damages and extra costs to Belgian Rail and the Flemish public transport company De Lijn.

Whether the man will indeed be prosecuted and have to pay damages is not yet clear because it must first be determined whether he was ‘sound of mind’ when he called in the false bomb alarms.

Train traffic across Belgium stabilised late Friday evening. Heightened state of security in capitalBrussels has been on terror alert since Dec. 21 when police detained 14 people suspected of plotting to help an accused al-Qaeda militant break out of jail. On Thursday, the authorities said a terror threat to the Belgian capital has decreased slightly but heightened security measures would remain in place. For more on the heightened state of security please click here.

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