Belgium hunts fugitive attack 'mastermind'| MENAFN.COM

Monday, 24 January 2022 01:33 GMT

Belgium hunts fugitive attack 'mastermind'

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) The suspected mastermind of a terrorist group that had planned attacks in Belgium has not yet been seized, Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens told Belgian broadcaster VRT yesterday.

Belgium is on high alert after police carried out raids on Thursday, acting on information that a terrorist cell was about to carry out an attack against police officers. Two suspects died in one of the raids, in the eastern city of Verviers.

"The attacks should have taken place on Friday against police officers," EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, who is Belgian, said in an interview with RTBF broadcaster and daily Le Soir.

The terrorist cell was reportedly co-ordinated out of Greece, by a man identified in Belgian media as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a 27-year-old Brussels-based man of Moroccan origin who had left for Syria to join the Islamic State militant group.

Two men were arrested in Greece on Saturday, but Abaaoud was not among them, Geens told VRT.

"Yesterday's arrests did not allow him to be intercepted," the minister said. "But he is being investigated and I suppose he will be found."

The men arrested in Athens were both Algerian nationals, Greek news agency ANA-MPA reported.

Greek authorities had forwarded DNA samples to Belgium but knew from the start that the sought-after man was not among them. Initial media reports had spoken of four arrests.

In Brussels, raids were conducted early yesterday but nobody was arrested, a prosecution spokesperson told Le Soir daily.

Belgian authorities released three men who had been detained for threatening police officers during two separate incidents in Brussels.

Two of them were seized late Friday after threatening officers outside the police station in the city's Molenbeek neighbourhood. They were released with "strict" conditions attached, according to a prosecution statement.

The third man had pretended to shoot at police officers. He was also set free.

Thursday's raids, conducted in six Belgian communities, targeted a group of suspects, including individuals who had returned from Syria, according to prosecutors. Their aim was to kill policemen in the streets and in police stations across Belgium.

The operation came one week after terrorist attacks in France, but Belgian authorities say they have no indication that the two incidents are linked. Around 150 Belgian soldiers have been deployed to guard strategic locations, with more due to follow.

They have been positioned at sites such as the Israeli, British and US embassies, as well as the Jewish Museum in Brussels, where a gunman killed four last year.

Meanwhile, the Jewish orthodox school in Amsterdam announced that it will open again today, Dutch news agency ANP reported, adding that the school had put enhanced security measures in place.

The school, which has around 200 pupils, remained closed on Friday, as did Jewish schools in Brussels and Antwerp.

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