Terror link 'not main line of inquiry' in Belgium barracks attack

26th October 2015, Comments 0 comments

A man being held for ramming his car into the gates of a military barracks in the Belgian city of Namur on Monday morning had no known links to terror groups, a prosecutor said.

The suspect, born in the city of Namur in 1983, "did not figure on terror watch lists" and was "practically unknown" to law-enforcement authorities, prosecutor Vincent Macq told a news briefing.

Terrorism "is not the main line of inquiry," he said, adding that in 2010 the man had been a candidate to join the military.

The suspect was arrested hours after fleeing on foot from the Flawinne military barracks where guards fired warning shots at his dark coloured Ford Focus, which he then abandoned in a field nearby.

No casualties were reported in the attack, which immediately raised alarm in a country already on high alert after a wave of violence by Islamic State-affiliated jihadists.

There were no explosives in the car contrary to earlier reports, said Macq.

His only weapon "was his car", he added.

The Flawinne military base is home to Belgium's Second Commando Battalion of 650 soldiers, most of whom are currently taking part in a NATO exercise in Spain.

Only about fifty soldiers were in the facility at the time of the incident, prosecutors said.

Details of the attack remained sketchy but a military bomb squad arrived at the site as well as a SWAT rapid reaction team.

Media reports said the assailant was masked, though this was not confirmed by authorities to AFP.

Hours after the incident, the sound of a muffled explosion was heard from the barracks.

An AFP photographer at the scene said the perimeter had been sealed off by authorities, with a helicopter flying overhead.

During the three-hour manhunt, residents said police combed the neighbourhood looking for the driver.

Nearby military facilities and a police academy were locked down.

A local TV station said that pupils at a nearby school were told to remain indoors, but the city mayor later said it was not necessary for parents to collect their children early.

Belgium's Defence Minister Stephen Vandeput was expected to visit the scene.

The incident stirred memories of recent deadly attacks, including the killing of four people at the Jewish museum in central Brussels in 2014 by a jihadist gunman.

In January, the security forces killed two suspected jihadist fighters in Verviers, eastern Belgium, who they claimed were planning imminent attacks on police.

© 2015 AFP

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