Brussels to remain in lockdown for a third day
Schools, universities and metro to stay closed on Monday amid fears of repeat of Paris attacks
A Belgian policeman and a serviceman secure an area during a press conference by the Belgian prime minister concerning the country’s security alert level in Brussels on November 22nd, 2015. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
The manhunt for terrorists involved in the Paris atrocities will see Brussels in lockdown for a third day as the international community prepares to intensify action against Islamic State.
Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said schools, universities and the underground metro system would have to remain closed on Monday amid fears of a repeat of the simultaneous gun and bomb attacks in the French capital nine days ago.
Key suspect Salah Abdeslam is just one of several figures feared to be at large in the city, where the usually thronged streets have been eerily quiet after the country was moved to its highest level of security alert.
“We fear an attack like in Paris, with several individuals, perhaps in several places,” Mr Michel warned after a meeting of the country’s national security council.
As the search for the jihadists continued, world leaders were contemplating how to respond to a string of outrages, with the UK moving nearer to joining allied air strikes against Isis targets in Syria.
Offensice against strongholds
British prime minister David Cameron will join French president Francois Hollande in Paris on Monday morning to discuss the crisis and the role British forces can play in the offensive against the extremist strongholds.
Mr Cameron is to present his case for escalating British military involvement to Parliament later this week, with the Paris attacks and a unanimous UN Security Council resolution apparently galvanising support among MPs for the move.
Barack Obama pointed to an “increasing awareness” on the part of Russian president Vladimir Putin of the need to eradicate the threat of Isis as efforts continued to forge a co-ordinated response.
The US president also urged leaders “to send a signal that the viciousness of a handful of killers does not stop the world from doing vital business”.
With Brussels on the highest Level Four alert, officials recommended the cancellation of sports competitions and the closure of shopping centres and public buildings.
The Great Britain tennis team has delayed its departure for next week’s Davis Cup final, due to be played at the 13,000-seat Flanders Expo in Ghent, which is only 35 miles northeast of Brussels.
More than 1,000 British fans are expected to support the team, but the Foreign Office is advising visitors to Belgium against places with large numbers of people present.
In Paris, French police issued a photo of the as-yet-unidentified third attacker who died outside the Stade de France stadium.
‘All necessary measures’
It is believed a Commons vote on air strikes could be held as early as next week and chancellor George Osborne said the deaths of 130 on the streets of Paris and the UN resolution backing “all necessary measures” were swaying the argument.
Warning that defeat in the vote would be “a publicity coup” for Isis, he said it was now clear there was “a price for not getting involved”.
“The prime minister will seek support across parliament for strikes against that terrorist organisation in Syria. Frankly, Britain has never been a country that stands on the sidelines and relies on others to defend us,” he said.
“We’ll make the case as a government, we will allow MPs to digest that response and then we will see where we stand.”
Mr Cameron’s case will come in the form of a response to a report by the Commons foreign affairs committee which expressed severe reservations about the coherence of the Government’s case.
Its Conservative chair, Crispin Blunt, has indicated the conditions set in the report could now be met.
Catalyst for efforts
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the UN vote should be a catalyst for renewed efforts to find a political solution in Syria, not “external intervention”, but he faces demands from Labour MPs not to enforce a party line against air strikes.
Dozens are reported to be ready to defy him in the Commons.
Democratic Unionist Party deputy leader Nigel Dodds signalled its eight MPs were willing to back air strikes.
Scottish National Party deputy leader Stewart Hosie sounded a more cautious note, however - insisting the prime minister would need at least to signal his intention to seek a UN resolution specifically authorising military action before it would consider voting in favour.
Belgium has been at the heart of investigations into the Paris attacks on November 13th that left 130 people dead after links emerged to Brussels, and the poor district of Molenbeek in particular.
Two of the Paris suicide bombers, Brahim Abdeslam and Bilal Hadfi, had been living in Belgium. Salah Abdeslam, Brahim’s 26-year-old brother, slipped back home to Brussels from Paris shortly after the attacks.
Asked whether Brussels’s maximum threat level since Saturday related to Salah Abdeslam alone, interior minister Jan Jambon told broadcaster VRT “unfortunately not”.
“It is a threat that goes beyond just that one person,” he said. “We’re looking at more things, that’s why we’ve put in place such a concentration of resources.”
Bernard Clerfayt, the mayor of the Brussels district of Schaerbeek, was quoted by broadcaster RTBF as saying there were “two terrorists” in the Brussels area ready to carry out violence.
Mohamed Abdeslam, the brother of Brahim and Salah, urged Salah in an interview on RTBF television to give himself up, adding that he believed Salah was still alive because he had had a last-minute change of heart while in Paris.
Brussels Chief Rabbi Albert Gigi told Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday that the city’s synagogues were shut over the weekend for the first time since the second World War.
That said, Brussels on Sunday morning resembled most other Sundays, with the normal limited number of shops, such bakeries and small supermarkets open, and many churches in the largely Catholic country still holding services.
However, larger markets were shut.
The weekend’s measures go far beyond those taken the last time Brussels was put on level four alert, for about a month at the end of 2007 and the start of 2008, when authorities intercepted a plot to free convicted Tunisian Nizar Trabelsi from a Belgian jail.
That time, the city closed the downtown Christmas market early and cancelled its New Year fireworks display.