Brussels denies intelligence services at fault

Raft of new security measures to be introduced following terrorist attacks

Belgium's Prime Minister, Charles Michel, announces new anti-terrorism measures at a special parliamentary session. Video: Reuters

 

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel defended his country’s intelligence services and vowed to introduce a string of new security measures following criticism of Belgium’s failure to apprehend a number of its citizens ahead of Friday night’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

Addressing the Belgian parliament, he defended his country’s security record, following revelations that a Belgian terrorist cell was behind the atrocities that led to the deaths of 129 people. “I don’t accept the criticism seeking to disparage our security services, who do a difficult and tough job,” he said. Information from Belgian authorities had helped prevent a further attack in Saint-Denis, he said.

French interior minister Bernard Caseneuve later appeared to contradict the Belgian premier. France received no outside help, he said, in targeting the suspects in Wednesday morning’s raid, which led to the death of Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man believed to have planned the Paris attacks.

Sweeping measures

In addition, Mr Michel said the government planned to “silence preachers of hate and expel them if necessary”. He also announced plans to permit house raids to take place 24 hours a day, scrapping the current law that forbids raids between 9pm and 5am.

As the search continued for Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspected perpetrators of Friday night’s attacks, Belgian police arrested nine people during six separate raids in Brussels yesterday morning. The raids targeted those with suspected links to Bilal Hadfi, the 20-year-old jihadist who blew himself up outside Stade de France. Hadfi travelled to Syria in February this year and was believed to be in the country as late as July.

Earlier this week, a former teacher, Sara Stacino, told Belgian media she alerted school administrators about her former student after she became concerned about comments he made following the Charlie Hebdo attack in January.

As both France and Belgium announced plans to beef up security and counterterrorism measures, EU justice ministers gather in Brussels today to consider the EU’s security policy. Ministers are expected to request that member states intensify identity checks for EU citizens entering the EU through its external borders, a provision already technically included in existing legislation but not always implemented by national authorities.

Ministers will also call for the speedy introduction of controversial Passenger Name Records (PNR) legislation, which would allow airlines to share data on passengers. Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency, is expected to push for the legislation to be agreed by Christmas, despite concerns in the European Parliament about data privacy.

In particular, the question of whether internal flights within the EU would be covered by the proposal is likely to prove contentious.

Yesterday the head of Europol warned Europe was facing the possibility of further attacks. “This represents the most serious terrorist threat faced in Europe for 10 years,” he told the parliament.