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Eight arrested on suspicion of planning terrorist attack

08:39 29/03/2023

Eight suspects have been arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack involving "radical Islam", according to the federal prosecutor’s office.

The arrests were carried out in two search operations in both Brussels and Antwerp, Bruzz reports.

Three searches within Brussels resulted in the arrests of men from Molenbeek-Saint-Jean, Schaerbeek and Zaventem, while those in Antwerp were carried out in the neighbourhoods of Merksem, Borgerhout and Deurne. Another was made in Eupen, the capital of Belgium’s German-speaking community.

Of the eight people arrested, at least two are suspected of making preparations for a terrorist attack in Belgium. The exact target of the attack had not yet been determined.

The motives match those of the terrorists who carried out attacks in 2016, a spokesperson for the federal public prosecutor's office said.

Investigators suspect at this point that two attacks were planned.

“There are links between the two cases, but further investigation will have to reveal to what extent the two were intertwined,” the prosecutor said in a statement.

“We have to situate the case in the context of Islamic religious radicalism and it concerns young adults who were radicalised quite quickly.

"It is a phenomenon that we are noticing more and more in our society – that there is more and more radicalism, extremism, and sometimes there are people who are so driven that they want to commit a terrorist attack.”

Authorities did not yet wish to comment on possible targets for the attack, but did say that a target was not yet concrete.

“All eight suspects are being interviewed by the federal police at the moment and the investigating judge will decide later what to do with them,” the statement said.

According to RTBF, the Brussels and Antwerp cases were initially separate but investigations later revealed links between two suspects, and that potentially dangerous individuals gravitated around them.

Belgian intelligence services are working closely with authorities on the case.

VRT reports that the young man from Eupen was already known to the law. He was arrested two years ago as a minor because the authorities suspected him of planning an attack against the police.

In a video message, he had also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and was placed in a youth institution.

Director-general of the federal judicial police, Eric Snoeck, told RTBF that “terrorist attacks are still regularly, or at least occasionally, prevented by our services or by the intelligence services in Belgium”.

In February, a man was arrested on suspicion of wanting to commit an attack during the Miss Belgium election and, in the same month, a teenager from Leuven was arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist act.

“We are continuing to work on a series of information,” Snoeck said.

“The terrorist threat is not measured by the number of attacks carried out. On the contrary. We must remain vigilant and that is what we are trying to do.”

Written by Helen Lyons