Brussels attacks: Belgium police arrest six people after suicide bombings

Brussels attacks: Belgium police arrest six people after suicide bombings

LONDON, March 25(GUARDIAN UK) – Police in Brussels have made six arrests following Tuesday’s airport and metro suicide bombings, after a day in which two Belgian government ministers offered to resign amid mounting criticism of the country’s failure to foil the attacks.

With prosecutors releasing more evidence that the attacks were carried out by the same Islamic State network responsible for November’s carnage in Paris and two suspects still believed to be on the run, several police raids were carried out across Brussels on Thursday evening.

The operation involving Swat teams and armoured cars with helicopter support began soon after 9pm. RTBF, the state broadcaster, cited police sources as saying it had targeted “people suspected of taking part in the attacks” that killed at least 31 people and injured 300.

Federal prosecutors confirmed six unidentified people were arrested, including three who were detained outside the prosecutors’ own office in the centre of Brussels.

Two others were arrested in the Belgian capital, and one person was arrested in Jette, on the city’s outskirts. The names of those arrested are expected to be announced by prosecutors on Friday.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, arrived in Brussels on Friday for talks with counter-terrorism officials.

Special police units, supported by the army, also carried out a separate raid on Thursday in Schaerbeek, the north-eastern Brussels suburb where explosives were discovered in a separate operation in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Tuesday. No arrests were confirmed in this raid.

Further police raids took place on Thursday in the Argenteuil suburb of Paris, where a French national in the “advanced stages” of a plot to attack the country was arrested. But Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, said: “At this stage, there is no tangible evidence that links this plot to the attacks in Paris and Brussels.”

The heightened activity came amid unconfirmed reports that the extremists may initially have been planning an attack on a nuclear site in Belgium but decided to change targets after police raids in Brussels last week. Earlier on Thursday the country’s interior and justice ministers conceded security errors had been made and offered to stand down.

The DH newspaper cited police sources as saying the two Bakraoui brothers, who blew themselves up Zaventem airport and the Maelbeek metro station, had filmed 10 hours of video of the daily routine of the head of Belgium’s nuclear research and development programme using a concealed camera. Police have confirmed the existence of the footage, but not who shot it.

Other reports suggested an attack may have been planned for Easter Monday. The high-security inner areas of a nuclear power station would almost certainly have been beyond the reach of militants such as the brothers, security experts told Belgian media. But 140 soldiers were dispatched to guard the country’s three nuclear sites earlier this month, and after Tuesday’s bombings the sites were sealed and non-essential staff evacuated as a precaution.

Turkey has accused Belgium of ignoring warnings about Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, one of the two suicide bombers who detonated suitcase bombs at Zaventem airport killing themselves and 11 other people, saying he was twice deported from Turkey last year and flagged as a suspected foreign jihadist.

Prosecutors also confirmed on Thursday that Ibrahim’s brother Khalid, who exploded the bomb that killed 20 more people at Maelbeek metro station, had rented a flat used as a hideout for the Paris attackers and was named in an international arrest issued on 11 December.

A fourth attacker, caught on CCTV cameras with the two airport bombers, is still being sought and a fifth suspect, thought to have been involved in the metro attack, could be dead or alive.

Belgian officials have rejected Turkish allegations of inaction following Ibrahim el-Bakraoui’s deportation last July, saying foreigners suspected of fighting in Syria cannot be detained without evidence they have committed a crime. Bakraoui was on parole after serving half of a 10-year sentence for armed robbery.

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Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP