Police crackdown across Europe, 12 detained
BRUSSELS - Reuters
REUTERS photoPolice across Europe have launched operations against people allegedly linked to the Brussels attacks and a total of 12 suspects have been detained in Belgium, France and Germany.
Belgian police arrested seven people and Germany arrested two in investigations into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) suicide bombings in Brussels, while authorities in France said they thwarted a militant plot there “that was at an advanced stage.”
ISIL suicide bombers hit Brussels airport and a metro train on March 22, killing at least 31 people and wounding some 270 in the worst such attack in Belgian history.
The Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said six people were held during searches in the Brussels neighborhoods of Schaerbeek in the north and Jette in the west, as well as in the center of the Belgian capital on May 24.
Belgian prosecutors confirmed on March 25 that a man shot and detained in a police operation in the Brussels district of Schaerbeek was linked to a planned attack in France, foiled by the French authorities on March 24.
The prosecutors said in a statement they had detained three people in Brussels on March 25 in relation to the French attack plot, naming them as Tawfik A., Salah A., and the third, unnamed man taken in the Schaerbeek operation.
Two of the three - Tawfik A and the man detained in Schaerbeek - were wounded in the leg, the statement said, according to Reuters.
Separately, the prosecutors said they had released three of the six people they detained on March 24. They were still holding Faycal C., Abou A. and a third unnamed person, the statement said.
The statement said that investigators established on the basis of DNA tests that Naijm Laachraoui was one of the suicide bombers that blew himself up in the Brussels airport on March 22, killing at least 10 people there.
In Paris authorities arrested a French national suspected of belonging to a militant network planning an attack in France, although they said there was no evidence directly tying his plot to the Brussels and Paris attacks on Nov. 13, 2015.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a televised address that the arrest helped “foil a plot in France that was at an advanced stage.”
A French Interior Ministry wanted notice published by French media named him as Reda Kriket, 34, who was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison in Belgium last July for recruiting Islamist fighters for Syria.
After the arrest by the French counterterrorism service, DGSI, the agency raided an apartment building in the northern Paris suburb of Argenteuil. A police source said investigators found acetone peroxide explosives in the apartment.
Meanwhile, the jihadist network behind the Paris and Brussels attacks are "in the process of being destroyed" but others remain, warned French President Francois Hollande on March 25.
"We have had some results in finding the terrorists and, in Brussels as well as Paris, there have been a number of arrests and we know that there are other networks," said Hollande.
"Even if the one that committed the attacks in Paris and Brussels is in the process of being destroyed... there is still a heavy threat."
Meanwhile, Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine said German police had arrested two people. One had received phone messages with the name of the metro station bomber and the word “fin” - French for “end” - three minutes before the metro blast, it said. The German interior ministry declined immediate comment.
U.S Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Brussels on March 25 to offer U.S. assistance in security.
“The United States is praying and grieving with you for the loved ones of those cruelly taken from us, including Americans, and for the many who were injured in these despicable attacks,” Kerry said after meeting Prime Minister Charles Michel.
“Je suis bruxellois. Ik ben Brussel,” Kerry said after brief remarks in French and Dutch, expressing solidarity in its two languages that he too felt a citizen of the Belgian capital.