Brussels on alert for second day as Europe faces continued terror threat – Washington Post

The Belgian capital was tense but quiet Sunday, with shops and the metro closed and public gatherings canceled for a second day in the face of “serious and imminent” threat against the Belgian capital similar to the coordinated assaults that killed 130 in Paris just over a week ago.

With one major suspect from the Nov. 13 Paris attacks still at large and thought to be in Belgium, security officials believe that allies of the Islamic State may be planning a parallel attack in Brussels.

Belgian officials said that Brussels’s underground metro system, shut since early Saturday, would likely remain closed until Monday. The country’s security cabinet will decide what to do at a meeting in the late afternoon. Officials are also debating whether to close schools Monday.

”It is very clear that there is a cell. There are two terrorists on the Brussels soil, who might be in the process of conducting acts that are very dangerous,” said Bernard Clerfayt, mayor of Brussels’s Schaerbeek district. “So we have to try to anticipate, prevent and surveil them.”

On Saturday, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said officials had identified shopping centers and public transportation as soft targets for a possible attack involving multiple assailants at multiple locations. The government warned residents to avoid crowded locations.

Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens apologized Sunday for the shutdown of the subway system, which continues as authorities extend their hunt for suspects.

“We are doing all we can to make that possible with the capacity we have now. We don’t want to paralyze Brussels economically, but we need time to arrange all this,” Geens said. “Nevertheless, I believe metro will be driving again tomorrow.”

Belgian authorities are casting a wide net — for those involved in the Paris attacks and others who may be preparing to strike in Belgium. A primary target is Salah Abdeslam, a 26-year-old French national who is the subject of a manhunt across Europe. Abdeslam — who was identified as one of at least nine suspected attackers in the assaults on France’s largest stadium, a concert hall and a number of cafes and bars — is believed to have made his way to Belgium after the attacks.

Most of the identified attackers are French and Belgian nationals who became radicalized in Europe. Some are known to have traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon told Flemish national television that authorities were still looking for members of the suspected militant cell linked to a Brussels plot or their accomplices.

“It involves several suspects, and that is why we have put in place such exceptional measures,” Jambon said.

Remembering the victims of Friday’s attacks in Paris

“We are following the situation minute by minute. There is no reason to hide that,” he said. “There is a real threat, but we are doing everything possible day and night to face up to this situation.”

Police raids in Molenbeek, the largely immigrant area of Brussels that several of the Paris attackers called home, and other neighborhoods in recent days have uncovered explosives and weapons. Belgian authorities said that militants appeared to be planning simultaneous attacks on multiple locations.

Late Friday, an additional Belgian citizen was charged as an accomplice in connection with the Paris attacks and participation in a terrorist organization. Authorities have not released his name.

Investigators have extended their search for Abdeslam, last seen a week ago in a car pulled over by police near the Belgian border, before his role in the attacks was known. The two Belgian men in the car with him at the time have been detained. A lawyer for one of the men told French media Saturday that her client described Abdeslam as extremely angry and possibly “ready to blow himself up.”

In France, normal life has gradually returned to the streets of Paris more than a week after the attacks, even as the government of President François Hollande moves forward with plans to tighten security, surveillance and border controls. Police have extended a ban on public gatherings until Nov. 30.

On Friday, French lawmakers approved a three-month extension to a state of emergency decreed by Hollande after the attack. Hollande has also proposed changes to France’s constitution.

According to French newspaper Le Monde, a new poll shows overwhelming support among the French public for security measures put forward by Hollande.

On Monday, Hollande will receive British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysée palace. Later in the week, the French leader is due to hold talks with President Obama in Washington and with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in Moscow.

Speaking during a trip to Asia, Obama on Sunday urged Americans not to yield to fear, vowing that the United States would defeat the Islamic State.

France is also promising to intensify its military response to the Islamic State, dug in despite a year of U.S. and allied airstrikes across Iraq and Syria. On Sunday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle had arrived in the eastern Mediterranean and would be ready to launch combat flights Monday against the Islamic State.

“If we let Daesh flourish in Syria and Iraq, we are allowing Daesh to organize against us,” Le Drian told Europe1 radio. Daesh is another name for the Islamic State.

Gen. Pierre de ­Villiers, chief of France’s defense staff, said in an interview published Sunday with French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that a barrage of airstrikes launched by French fighter jets since the attack had “seriously hurt” the Islamic State.

Ryan reported from Paris. Annabell Van den Berghe in Brussels and Cléophée Demoustier, Virgile Demoustier and Emily Badger in Paris contributed to this report.


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