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Belgian police capture Paris attack suspect
Peter Spiegel and Jim Brunsden in Brussels
Last updated: November 24, 2015
Belgian authorities captured a man suspected of involvement in the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris during a series of raids on Sunday night, the federal prosecutor announced.
The prosecutor stated that the man, whom he declined to identify, was charged with “participating in activities of a terrorist group” and with executing the Paris plot.
Despite the break, which occurred as Brussels was in the midst of a security lockdown ordered by the Belgian government on Saturday, Charles Michel, the prime minister, said that the city would remain at the highest terrorism alert until Monday.
“The Belgian government and the Belgian people are confronted with a difficult situation,” Mr Michel said. “We are doing everything possible with the security services to return to normal as quickly as possible.”
Separately late on Monday, the US state department issued a global travel alert, citing “increased terrorist threats” from militant groups in various regions around the world. Potential attackers could target private or government interests, it said in a statement, noting that “the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of (Islamic State) return from Syria and Iraq”, and additionally it warned of a “continuing threat from unaffiliated persons” planning attacks on an individual basis.
The Belgian alert level, which signals that authorities believe there is a “serious and imminent” threat of an attack, has led to closed schools, cancelled sporting and culture events and the shutting down of all underground public transport.
Belgian security services are still in the midst of a nationwide manhunt for Salah Abdeslam, who was long believed to be the only alleged Paris plotter to have survived the attack. But Belgian investigators announced that Mr Abdeslam had not been found in the Sunday raids, meaning that the man charged on Monday was an additional suspect.
The sprawling investigation into the Paris attacks also continued in France, where investigators found what one intelligence official said was an explosive belt like the ones used in the atrocity in a rubbish bin in Montrouge, in the south of the French capital.
Two men who drove Mr Abdeslam back to Brussels in the hours after the Paris attacks have told Belgian investigators that they believed he may have intended to blow himself up in Paris but ultimately decided against it.
Authorities said that 15 others detained in the Sunday raids, which were carried out across Brussels and in the southern Belgian city of Charleroi, had been released.
Seven follow-up raids were carried out in Brussels and Liège on Monday morning and led to an additional five detentions, though police immediately released two of the people.
Media had reported on Sunday night that Mr Abdeslam was seen in a BMW car near Liège on a motorway that leads into Germany, raising suspicion that he had escaped the Belgian dragnet. But in its Monday statement, the prosecutor’s office said that the BMW had no connection to the terrorism alert.
“Last night in the Liège region, a BMW vehicle rushed off when pulled over by police for a routine check,” the prosecutor’s office said in the statement. “The vehicle was identified. Further inquiries showed that there is no link at all with the ongoing operation.”
Mr Michel said that despite keeping the Belgian capital at the highest alert level, schools and public transport would reopen on Wednesday.
“The potential targets are the same as outlined yesterday,” Mr Michel said. “They include busy areas such as shopping centres, high streets and the public transport system.”