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Five charged with terrorism after Belgium raids

Two people were killed in the raid at Verviers last night.

Updated 9.34pm

Source: Frédéric Hausman/YouTube

BELGIAN POLICE HAVE wrapped up a major anti-terror operation in which suspected Islamist militants who were alleged to be planning attacks on police officers were shot dead.

Five people have been charged with terrorism, the prosecutor’s office said this evening. Thirteen people in total were been detained across Belgium with two more held by police in France.

“This operational cell of about 10 people, some of whom had returned from Syria, was on the point of launching significant terrorist attacks in Belgium,” Thierry Werts of the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office told a press conference in Brussels.

“During the search [at Verviers], certain suspects immediately opened fire at special forces of the police with automatic weapons. They opened fire for several minutes. Two suspects were killed and a third was arrested.” No police officers were injured in the incident.

“The group was on the verge of carrying out terrorist attacks to kill police officers in public roads and in police stations,” Belgian federal prosecutors’ spokesman Eric Van der Sijpt told a news conference about the raids overnight.

Source: AP/Press Association Images

Police found Kalashnikov assault rifles, explosives, ammunition and communications equipment, along with police uniforms that could have been used for the terror plot, he said.

Members of the group had recently returned from Syria, prosecutors said, but they said there still appeared to be no direct link to the Paris attacks.

Prime Minister Charles Michel raised Belgium’s terror alert to its second highest level after the raids. The European Commission stepped up security at its headquarters in Brussels as a “precaution”, a spokeswoman said.

The incident comes as Europe is on high alert after 17 people were killed in the Islamist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris last week. French police today detained 12 people in connection with these attacks.

Any links to Paris?

No link has been found so far between the alleged jihadist plot and last week’s deadly attacks in Paris, a spokesman for Belgian prosecutors said.

“No link is established at this stage with the attacks in Paris,” prosecutors’ office spokesman Eric Van der Sijpt said.

However, he added:

“This operation stopped a major terrorist attack from taking place. You could say a second potential Paris has been averted.

The possible attack could have taken place within a matter of hours.

He also said that Belgium will seek the extradition of the two suspected detained in France, BBC reports. The investigation that led to last night’s raids began before the attacks in Paris last week.

An official said that the incident in Verviers, which is close to the German border some 125 kilometres (70 miles) from Brussels, was “jihadist-related”.

At a press conference, prosecutors said it is thought the suspects were about to launch terrorists attacks on a “grand scale”.

Residents in Verviers said they heard the gunfire and blasts.

“I heard a sort of explosion, followed by several gunshots,” one local told RTBF. “For the moment, I cannot tell you any more because I don’t dare go out to see what is happening.”

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Source: AP/Press Association Images

Another local resident said “machine guns were firing for about 10 minutes.”

Belgian investigators said they are probing whether an arms dealer sold weapons used in the Paris attacks, after confirming supermarket gunman Amedy Coulibaly sold the man a car belonging to his partner Hayat Boumeddiene.

The man, Neetin Farasula, from the airport city of Charleroi in French-speaking southern Belgium, is in detention on suspicion of a possible link to the weapons used in the Paris attacks.

Belgian prosecutors are working with French authorities to establish any “possible link” to last week’s attacks at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

Coulibaly, who was killed by police on Friday, is also believed to have shot dead a policewoman in another Paris attack.

Source: AP/Press Association Images

Prosecutor spokesman Eric Van der Sijpt said that the Belgian suspect “bought the car belonging to Coulibaly’s wife.”

Spain meanwhile opened an investigation Thursday into Coulibaly and Boumeddiene’s visit to Madrid shortly before the attacks.

Karasular handed himself into police on Tuesday, saying that he had been in contact with Coulibaly in recent months and had tried to “swindle” the Frenchman over the car deal, but was scared after the Paris attacks.

Turkish authorities say Boumeddiene crossed into Syria on January 8 from Turkey. She had arrived in Istanbul on a flight from Madrid before the Paris attacks took place.

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