domingo, 22 de novembro de 2015

Belgium extends high terror alert in Brussels

Bruxelas exagerou? Tinha alternativa? Podia ter optado por uma concentração de meios militares menos forte? A ameaça é real e há suspeitos em fuga. Vários estarão em território belga. Mas Bruxelas e – por extensão natural – toda a Europa, pode ter caído numa armadilha. Elevado o alerta de segurança para o nível máximo, Bruxelas só pode baixá-lo se conseguir mostrar resultados concretos. Prender suspeitos é um deles. Em particular, os dois homens que procura desde o dia 13. Se não conseguir, vai Bruxelas continuar indefinidamente em estado de sítio, com as crianças em casa e os transportes parados?
EDITORIAL / PÚBLICO / 22/11/2015  

Belgium extends high terror alert in Brussels

Belgian police arrest 16 but the hunt goes on for a suspected Paris accomplice.


Brussels will remain on high alert on Monday, with schools and the metro system closed, because of an “imminent and high” risk of terrorist attack as security services continue the hunt for Salah Abdeslam, who is suspected of taking part in the Paris attacks.

Belgian police arrested 16 people late Sunday in raids on 19 addresses, but prosecutors said the 26-year-old was not among those detained, and no firearms or explosives were found. During a search of a café in Molenbeek, a Brussels area notorious for Islamist radicals where Abdeslam lived, a car drove at police who opened fire. An injured suspect was taken into custody.

Although the brother of the Paris suspect made a public appeal for him to surrender, Belgian media reported that Salah Abdeslam had been spotted near the city of Liège, but had escaped by car.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the decision to extend the state of alert in Brussels, first imposed in the early hours of Saturday, had been taken because of the continued threat of an “attack similar to the one which took place in Paris, with attacks that could be launched simultaneously in several places.”

Heavily armed soldiers and police, backed up by armored cars, patrolled the streets of Brussels from Saturday morning, when the city was put on the highest state of terror alert — level 4. Large shopping areas and stores were closed, public events and concerts were canceled, and many shops and restaurants also shut their doors to business. Police appealed to the press and users of social media not to divulge details of counter-terrorism operations, to help the effort to capture the suspects,

Brussels residents have been advised to avoid large crowds and places like airports and train stations, and to exercise caution throughout the city. School and university campus were closed and will remain shut Monday, when the national security council will take a fresh look at the situation after an update from the Coordinating Unit for Threat Analysis.

We know that the decisions taken will complicate economic and professional life tomorrow” — Prime Minister Charles Michel.

The prime minister said the information about the continued high threat level had been communicated to the EU institutions headquartered in Brussels. The European Council raised its alert level to orange from yellow and canceled all non-essential meetings, though Eurogroup finance ministers will go ahead with their planned session.

“We’re not happy with this situation but we have to act responsibly,” Michel told a news conference. “We know that the decisions taken will complicate economic and professional life tomorrow.

A special government hotline for those seeking information on school openings and public transport received more than 12,000 calls on Sunday alone.

The prime minister declined to comment on the ongoing investigation related to suspects from the Paris attacks, who remained at large and are thought to have been planning another attack. Belgian officials did confirm, however, that Ahmed Dahmani, a 26-year-old Belgian national of Moroccan descent with ties to Abdeslam, was arrested in Antalya, Turkey on Saturday morning.

“Dahmani was known to us; we knew he could have left for Syria,” Eric Van Der Sypt, a spokesperson for the Belgium’s prosecutor’s office said.

Osman Sert, a senior press adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, said Dahmani was arrested because “he has links with Paris attacks.” An Italian senior police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Dahmani is a connection of Salah Abdeslam, the man currently on the run.”

Italian police confirmed that Abdeslam traveled by car with a Belgian plate on a ferry from Bari, Italy, to Patrasso, Greece, on August 1 with Ahmed Dahmani. The two returned to Italy from Greece on August 5. After an inquiry, the police discovered that on the day of his departure Abdeslam bought a second ticket with a person who had the initials A.D., which stands for “Ahmed Dahmani,” the Italian official said.

Brother’s appeal

The U.S. embassy in Belgium urged Americans living in Brussels to stay at home while the state of high alert was in effect.

Belgian authorities urged people to “facilitate and respect security checks,” to avoid spreading rumors and to follow only official information from the Belgian authorities.

The threat level remained at 3 for the rest of the country. Authorities last raised the threat level to 4 in December 2007.

Law enforcement officials had intensified their search Friday for Paris attacks suspect Abdeslam, acting on intelligence and reports that he was in the Belgian capital.

“We have two possibilities: Either he failed [in Paris] and now has to succeed [in a terror attack],” or “he got scared in Paris and ISIS is not very amused with this,”“ said Van Der Sypt.

I would rather see my brother in prison than in a cemetery” — Mohammed Abdeslam.

“The best possibility for him, I would say, is to surrender himself to the law enforcement authorities,” Van Der Sypt said.

Abdeslam, who lived in the Molenbeek district of Brussels, was not among those arrested during a dramatic police raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis Wednesday morning and has not been identified as one of the three people killed during that operation — one of whom was suspected attack ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

Abaaoud’s cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen, was also killed during the raid. The third body has not yet been identified.

On Sunday, Mohammed Abdeslam made a televised appeal for his brother to turn himself in to authorities.

“I would rather see my brother in prison than in a cemetery,” he told Belgian national broadcaster RTBF.

Another Abdeslam brother, Ibrahim, blew himself up in the Paris attacks. Mohammed told RTBF he was unaware that Salah and Ibrahim had become radicalized.

“When your brother starts praying, it’s not neccesarily a radicalist change,” he said. “When your brother tells you that they will stop drinking, it’s not a radicalist change. They were only people that wanted to become better, from our point of view, and be a bit more respectful in their religion.”

Maïa de la Baume, Carmen Paun and Vincent Chadwick contributed to this story.

This article was updated with details of police operations on Sunday night.


Giulia Paravicini , Craig Winneker and Ryan Heath  

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