Belgian authorities face growing criticism of terrorism policy

Police close in on Paris-Brussels terror cell as DNA confirms link between attacks

Phone footage showing a major police operation in the northern Brussels borough of Schaerbeek. One person has been wounded and detained. Video: Reuters

 

A man shot and wounded by police in an operation in northeast Brussels remained in custody last night, amid signs that Belgian and French police were closing in on a Franco-Belgian terrorist cell linked to the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks.

Video footage of an operation at a major intersection just north of the EU district showed a man lying on the ground at a tram stop holding a rucksack over the tracks, before being dragged away by police.

The arrest followed the detention of eight other suspects in Brussels. Two more people were arrested in Germany.

The developments came as French police thwarted what interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve described as an “advanced terrorist plot”, following the arrest of a man in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil on Thursday night.

The known jihadist is believed to have strong links with a Belgian terrorist cell involved in the recruitment of fighters for Islamic State, including the Paris attacks planner Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Najim Laachraoui, the 24-year-old Belgian who blew himself up in a suicide bomb attack in Brussels airport on Tuesday.

DNA traces

Meanwhile, Belgian justice minister Koen Geens told a special sitting of the Belgian parliament that Paris attack suspect Salah Abdeslam, who was arrested last week in Molenbeek, Brussels, had stopped co-operating with police since Tuesday’s attacks.

Belgian authorities have faced intense criticism for their handling of terrorist activity in the city.

Reports suggested that police questioned Abdeslam for only a brief period between his arrest last Friday and this week’s attacks and only about the Paris bombings.

This was despite some analysts suspecting that Abdeslam may have intended to take part in Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels.

Mr Geens, who offered to resign on Thursday, appeared to blame the police for not identifying airport bomber Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, in spite of warnings from Turkey.

“Someone has been negligent and was not sufficiently proactive,” he said.

Identity of victims

Dutch siblings Sascha and Alexander Pinczowski and British citizen David Dixon were among those killed.

A Chinese citizen and two US citizens also died.

Speaking alongside Belgian prime minister Charles Michel in Brussels yesterday, US secretary of state John Kerry said he was grieving with “the loved ones of those who have been very cruelly taken from us , including Americans”.

He noted that 66 countries, including Belgium, had joined the coalition fighting Islamic State.

His comments came as the Pentagon said that Islamic State’s second-in-command had been killed in Syria.

Belgium’s nuclear agency confirmed that the passes of some employees had been withdrawn as a precautionary measure.

The move follows reports that some of the Brussels attackers had video footage of a senior official working in Belgium’s nuclear industry.