Bloody week in Brussels: from police raid to bombings

22nd March 2016, Comments 0 comments

The Belgian capital was hit by deadly bomb attacks on Tuesday, barely a week after a police raid on an apartment that led to the dramatic capture of the last fugitive from the Paris massacre.

Salah Abdeslam, Europe's most wanted man, was arrested Friday in a shootout with police in the gritty Molenbeek district of Brussels where the Paris attacks were hatched.

The 26-year-old Frenchman -- who had been on the run for four months -- had told investigators he was planning another strike in Brussels, the home of the European Union and NATO.

The city in the crosshairs of the French attacks probe has witnessed several lockdowns since the Paris carnage claimed by the Islamic State group, and is currently at its second highest level of terror alert.

Here is a look at the developments over the past week:

- Stumbling on jihadists -

On Tuesday, March 15, Belgian and French police stumble across jihadists during a "cold" apartment search linked to the November 13 attacks in Paris.

A shootout ensues in the Forest district of southern Brussels, during which Algerian Mohamed Belkaid, 35, is shot dead and four police officers, one a French woman, are wounded.

Along with his Kalashnikov rifle, Belkaid had the Islamic State group's black flag by his side, police say.

Investigators found Abdeslam's fingerprints at the flat and say he probably fled as the gunbattle broke out.

Media reports say the 26-year-old Belgian-born fugitive erred by using an old cellphone to call up a friend to find another place to hole up.

- Abdeslam caught -

Three days later, on Friday, March 18, Abdeslam and four other people are arrested in a police raid in the largely immigrant Molenbeek district, barely a kilometre (half a mile) from his family's home.

Belgian media said police were alerted by an unusually high number of pizzas ordered at the house.

Abdeslam -- the last survivor of the suspected 10-member jihadist gang directly involved in the Paris attacks -- was shot in the leg during his arrest, and transferred to a maximum-security prison unit in the scenic city of Bruges.

His lawyer has launched a legal fight to prevent his extradition to France.

Abdeslam told investigators he had planned to blow himself up at the Stade de France Stadium outside Paris but backed out at the last minute.

He then managed to get through three police checks on his way out of France on the night of the attacks.

The one-time petty criminal also told interrogators he had been preparing a strike in Brussels, a claim prosecutors said appeared to be backed up by their discovery of large amounts of weapons and a new network around him.

Police said they had found the DNA of a newly identified suspect -- Najim Laachraoui -- on explosives used in the Paris attacks.

- Jihadists strike back -

On Tuesday, March 22, around 35 people are killed and 200 wounded when two explosions rip through the check-in hall at the main Brussels airport and a third hits a train at Maalbeek metro station, near the European Union's headquarters.

Witnesses say there were shots and shouts in Arabic at the airport before the attacks. An airport security officer describes mangled bodies and "total panic everywhere".

Belgium, which had already raised its terror threat to the maximum level of four, shuts down the entire transport system.

The assaults are claimed by the IS group, saying it was targeting the "crusader state" for "fighting Islam and its people".

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said there were fears more suspects could still be at large in Brussels.

Belgian authorities published surveillance camera images showing three male suspects pushing trollies with suitcases past the check-in area.

© 2016 AFP

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