Friday 15 December 2017

Terror suspects evade police despite lockdown in Brussels

French President Francois Hollande (right) with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysee Palace in Paris
French President Francois Hollande (right) with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysee Palace in Paris
A Belgian soldier patrols in the Grand Place in Brussels

Belgian police launched new raids early yesterday in their hunt for a fugitive suspect in the Paris attacks, as Brussels grappled with a third day of unprecedented security measures that have closed subways, shopping districts and schools.

In Paris, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would ask for parliamentary approval for Britain to join airstrikes against Islamic State (IS) extremists in Syria. If approved, Britain would join other nations carrying out bombings in Syria, including the US, France and Russia.

The raids in Belgium began late on Sunday, capping a tense weekend that saw hundreds of troops patrolling streets and authorities hunting for suspected extremists, including Salah Abdeslam, a fugitive since being named a suspect in the Paris attacks that killed 130 and wounded hundreds of others on November 13. Between Sunday night and midday yesterday, 21 people were detained.


The Belgian government kept the capital on the highest state of alert in the face of what it described as a "serious and imminent" threat, preventing a return to normal in the city.

Federal prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said 19 raids were carried out yesterday in Molenbeek, home to many of the Paris attackers, and other boroughs of Brussels, and three raids were carried out in Charleroi.

Abdeslam was not among those arrested. No firearms or explosives were found.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon told the RTL network that Abdeslam "must have a lot of support on our territory. That's why all these searches being conducted at the moment are important".

Police fired two shots at a car that approached them as they searched a snack bar in Molenbeek, Van Der Sypt said. The vehicle escaped, but was stopped later in Brussels and a wounded person inside was arrested. It wasn't immediately known if the person was linked to the Paris attacks probe.

Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, meeting in Paris, paid a visit to the Bataclan concert venue, which saw the worst of the carnage in Paris.

Hollande plans to meet US President Barack Obama today, then German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, in pursuit of a unified strategy in Syria.

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