One arrest after police stop car from driving into crowd in Antwerp
Car with knives in boot tried to enter shopping street at high speed, say Belgian police
Police officers and Sedee-Dovo, the mine clearance service of Belgian defence, patrol in Antwerp where Belgian police arrested a man on Thursday after he tried to drive into a crowd at high speed in a shopping area in the port city of Antwerp, a police chief said. Photograph: Virginie Lefour/AFP/Getty Images
A man drove a car at speed into a pedestrianised street in Antwerp on Thursday, forcing people to jump out of its path, a day after an assailant rammed a vehicle into crowds in central London, police said.
The car sped away in the Belgian port leaving no one injured, but prosecutors said police later arrested a man suspected of being the driver, naming him as Mohamed R, a 39-year-old French national of North African origin.
Antwerp police found knives in the vehicle and a canister containing an unknown substance that bomb disposal officers were checking, the Belgian federal prosecutors’ office said in a statement.
The Belgian federal prosecutors did not give details of any motive but said they had been called in “based on all these elements and the events in London yesterday”.
A French source later told Reuters that authorities there believed the suspect had not been trying to hit anyone, but was probably drunk and trying to escape a police check. The source described the suspect as a Tunisian national living in France, known to police for common law crimes. There was no immediate comment on the source’s account from Belgium.
The car entered Antwerp’s busy De Meir shopping street at about 11am (10am Irish time), said police. Patrolling soldiers tried to stop it but it went through a red light and drove off, said a police spokesman. The vehicle later came to a halt near Antwerp’s waterfront, it added, without going into further details.
“I want to thank the fast response team which arrested the man in a professional manner and may have prevented much worse,” Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever said.
The London attacks came exactly one year after twin bombings at Brussels airport and its metro killed 32 people. More police were visible on the streets of Antwerp on Thursday afternoon.
Speaking to reporters, French president Francois Hollande said: “It seemed to involve a French national, with possibly a certain number of weapons in his boot – it’s up to the judges to make a statement on that – who was looking to kill or at the very least create a dramatic incident.
“Therefore we must continue to be on high alert and mobilise all our forces,” he added.