Belgian police sealed off streets in the centre of Brussels during raids late on Sunday night. Armed officers mounted several security operations – 19 in the capital. There were three in the industrial city of Charleroi, 50 Km to the south. Arrests were made but the fugitive Salah Abdeslam remains at large.
Belgian Federal Prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt gave the following account:
“In total 16 persons were arrested. The investigating judge will decide tomorrow about there possible further detention. Until now, no fire-arms nor explosives were found. Salah Abdeslam is not among the person arrested during the searches.”
Twenty-six-year-old Salah Abdeslam has been on the run since he left Paris hours after his brother blew himself up at a cafe there. He is being hunted by French and Belgian police as he is thought to be one of the suspected nine assailants who carried out last week’s gun and bomb attacks in Paris. Seven of the militants died on the night.
There are unconfirmed reports Abdeslam has been spotted in a car near Liege heading towards Germany.
Three people have so far been charged in Belgium, where French authorities say the attacks were organised among a network of ISIL followers in Brussels, some of whom have fought in Syria.
Earlier on Sunday French police released a picture of a man they said was the third suicide bomber at the Stade de France as they try to identify him. French investigators have also extended into a fifth day the detention of a man arrested on Wednesday outside the building where the suspected ringleader died in a raid. The death toll in last week’s attacks in Paris is now 130 people with scores more injured.
Belgian police say a number of operations are underway across the country in response to terror threats referred to by Prime Minister Charles Michel.
He has confirmed the situation is extremely serious.
In Brussels, a bus can be seen blocking a road in the city centre and armed police are guarding the area.
However federal police are asking local residents and the media not to disclose the exact location of the armed forces.
Threat of ‘coordinated, multiple attacks’
Speaking prior to the operations, the prime minister announced the capital’s terror alert status would remain at the highest level, citing a threat of “coordinated, multiple attacks.”
The rest of Belgium will remain on a threat level of three, on a four-tier scale.
Michel said the city’s metro network would remain closed and schools in Brussels would also be shut on Monday (November 23).
The prime minister also said that he would seek to reduce events attracting large crowds.
“The threat is considered to be the same as yesterday: serious and imminent. We’re continuing to focus particular attention on the public transport system and I confirm that the decision has been made to keep the metro closed on Monday,” Michel announced.
Eyewitnesses say local residents have been asked to stay indoors and away from their windows.
One eyewitness described the scene in Brussels city centre to Belgian news site RTL:
“I was at a restaurant and the police asked us to finish our meals and to group together inside. They said to wait for their signal before leaving.”
Certain branches of the BNP Paribas bank will be asking employees to work from home, while others will be asking for clients to prove their identity before allowing access.