Belgian authorities say two people have been killed and one has been arrested during a shootout in an anti-terrorist operation in the eastern city of Verviers. The raid was part of an investigation into extremists returning from Syria. CCTV’s correspondent Jack Barton reported from Brussels.
Belgium police kill 2 in anti-terror raid during shootoutBelgian authorities say two people have been killed and one has been arrested during a shootout in an anti-terrorist operation in the eastern city of Verviers. The raid was part of an investigation into extremists returning from Syria. CCTV's correspondent Jack Barton reported from Brussels.
Magistrate Eric Van der Sypt told reporters in Brussels on Thursday that the suspects were on the verge of committing a major terrorist attack. The suspects immediately opened fire on security forces as they were closed in on near the city’s train station. This was followed by an intense firefight on the upper level of a residential Verviers building where the raid took place and lasted several minutes.
“These were extremely well-armed men” with automatic weapons, Van der Sypt said. He said police buildings were the target of an attack expected within hours or days.
“We still expect a number of arrests,” he said. No police were wounded or killed in the firefight, which occurred at the height of rush hour in a crowded neighborhood.
He said at an emergency news conference that anti-terrorist raids such as this one were under way in the Brussels region and Verviers. He said Belgium’s terror alert level was raised to its second highest level.
Witnesses speaking on Belgium’s RTBF radio described a series of explosions followed by rapid fire at the center of Verviers, near a bakery and in the neighborhood of the train station. Video posted online of what appeared to be the raid showed a dark view of a building amid blasts, gunshots and sirens, and a fire with smoke billowing up.
Verviers, a former industrial town with about 56,000 residents including a large immigrant community, is about 125 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of the capital, Brussels.
The raid and shootout does not come as a surprise to Belgium, which in Europe has the highest number of nationals believed to be fighting in Syria and Iraq. In May 2014, an Islamic extremist killed four people at a Jewish Museum in Brussels. The gunman in that attack is suspected of being a French national who fought in Syria.
Possible connection to Amedy Coulibaly
Belgian authorities had said earlier Thursday that they were looking into possible links between a man they arrested in the southern city of Charleroi for illegal trade in weapons and Amedy Coulibaly, who prosecutors said killed four people in a Paris kosher market last week.
The man arrested in Belgium “claims that he wanted to buy a car from the wife of Coulibaly,” Van der Sypt said. This is the only link at this stage between the Paris attacks and the Belgian operation, said the magistrate. This was the result of an investigation that has been underway for a few weeks and is still ongoing.
The man first came to police himself claiming there had been contact with Coulibaly’s common law wife regarding the car. He was later arrested following a search on his premises when enough indications of illegal weapons trade were found.
A Belgian connection figured in a 2010 French criminal investigation into a foiled terrorist plot in which Coulibaly was one of the convicted co-conspirators. According to French judicial documents, the plotters included a Brussels area contact who was supposed to furnish both weapons and ammunition.
Story compiled with information from CCTV and AP reports.
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