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Homeland Security

Brussels at Highest Terror Alert After 'Precise' Attack Information

by VOA News November 21, 2015

Heavily armed security forces patrolled the streets and subways were closed in Belgium's capital Saturday, as the government warned of a risk of attacks similar to the multiple terrorist actions in Paris that killed 130 people eight days ago.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said the alert level was raised to its highest level, which signals 'a serious and immediate threat,' based on 'quite precise information' that authorities have obtained.

There is a concern that 'several individuals with arms and explosives could launch an attack ... perhaps even in several places,' Michel said.

Counter-terrorism sources told VOA's Jamie Dettmer that the 'quite precise information' Michel mentioned included the possibility that Salah Abdeslam, the principal suspect in the Paris attacks not yet accounted for, could be planning to blow himself up in public in Brussels - possibly in the Grand Place or a central train station.

Authorities throughout Europe have been working feverishly to track down Abdeslam, who was last seen crossing into Belgium on November 14, a few hours after the attacks in Paris.

Metro trains in Brussels are shut down at least until Sunday afternoon, and residents of the capital were warned to avoid crowded public areas, such as concerts, shopping areas and transport hubs.

Abdeslam has been tentatively identified as a member of three Islamic State terror squads that carried out a series of bomb and gun attacks in Paris on the night of November 13.

Ringleader killed

The man considered the chief architect of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed during a police raid Wednesday on a terrorist hideout in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris.

Islamic State extremists claimed responsibility for the November 13 attacks, which killed or wounded nearly 500 people and shocked the world.

Authorities in France and other countries confirmed that Islamic State fighters were behind the plot, and France has led intensified airstrikes against Islamic State's 'capital' in northern Syria, the city of Raqqa.

In another development Saturday, authorities in Turkey said they have arrested a Belgian citizen and two Syrians suspected of 'aiding and abetting' Islamic State terrorists.

The Belgian citizen, who is of Moroccan descent, is accused of carrying out reconnaissance for the attack in Paris, the Dogan news agency said.

Late Friday, Belgium charged a third, unidentified person with involvement in terrorism. No other details were released.

In custody

Two others are in Belgian custody and face similar charges related to the Paris attacks.

Belgian authorities raided nine homes Thursday in several parts of Brussels, detaining nine people and seizing explosives and weapons.

Some of the searches were in the Molenbeek neighborhood where Abdeslam lived along with his brother Ibrahim, who blew himself up outside one of the cafes attacked in Paris.

Some of the raids were connected to Bilal Hadfi, another terrorist who detonated an explosives vest that killed him outside the French stadium that was attacked.

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