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Brussels latest: Five more people arrested as lockdown continues

Armed police carried out a series of raids in the city overnight.

A Belgian Army soldier patrols the central train station in Brussels today.
A Belgian Army soldier patrols the central train station in Brussels today.
Image: Virginia Mayo/AP/Press Association Images

Updated at 1.40pm

BELGIAN POLICE ARRESTED five more people in a new series of anti-terrorism raids today, prosecutors said, as the capital Brussels was locked down for a third day under a state of maximum alert.

The arrests bring to 21 the total number of people detained since police launched a major security operation last night, with 16 people having been taken into custody earlier, they said.

No arms or weapons were found in the raids, prosecutors added.

Key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam is believed to remain on the run after officials said he was not among those arrested on Sunday night.

Abdeslam’s elder brother Brahim blew himself up outside a Paris bar in the November 13 attacks.

Armed officers and troops have been patrolling the near deserted streets of the tense Belgian capital all weekend after the government raised the terror alert to the highest level of four in the city.

The European Union and NATO, which are based in Brussels, both said they would increase security and urged non-essential staff to work from home today.

Michel said the Brussels metro system would remain shut and schools and universities would be closed over concerns that jihadists were planning a repeat of the Paris gun and suicide bombing attacks on 13 November.

‘Several suspects’ 

The historic Grand Place square in central Brussels, usually bustling, was virtually empty at the weekend, with business badly hit in the run-up to Christmas as anxious residents heeded warnings to stay home.

With a massive manhunt on for several suspects linked to the carnage in Paris, Belgian police urged the media and social media not to show live footage of the police operations taking place yesterday evening.

Many Belgians responded in light-hearted fashion by tweeting pictures of cats under the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon earlier said the authorities were looking for “several suspects” and not just for Abdeslam, who is thought to have slipped past French security forces after taking part in the Paris attacks, which were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

Belgium Paris Attacks Police lead away a man during last night's operation. Source: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/Press Association Images

French police meanwhile released a photo of the third of three men who blew themselves up outside France’s national stadium during the rampage, which also targeted the Bataclan concert hall as well as a string of bars and restaurants.

The man in the picture passed through Greece with one of the other suicide bombers, carrying a Syrian passport in the name of Mohammad al-Mahmod, a source close to the investigation said.

Obama ‘not afraid’ 

With the world on edge over the jihadist threat, US President Barack Obama said the most powerful tool in the fight against IS was to say “that we’re not afraid”.

He added that he would go ahead with a December visit to Paris for UN climate talks and called on other countries to show similar resolve.

French President Francois Hollande will embark on a diplomatic offensive in the coming days in a bid to forge a broad anti-IS coalition.

He will host Britain’s David Cameron today before meeting Obama in Washington on Tuesday, holding talks with Germany’s Angela Merkel in Paris on Wednesday and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday.

The UN Security Council on Friday authorised “all necessary measures” to fight jihadist violence after a wave of deadly attacks, including the downing of a Russian aircraft in Egypt with the loss of 224 lives and the storming of a luxury hotel in Mali that left 19 dead.

The suspected ringleader of the November 13 attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, died in a massive police raid in Paris on Wednesday.

He was a notorious Belgian jihadist thought to be fighting in Syria, and his presence in Europe has raised troubling questions about a Europe-wide breakdown in intelligence and border security.

Questions remain too over the role played by Belgian-born Abdeslam — who used to run a bar with his brother Brahim in Brussels.

A third brother, Mohamed Abdeslam, told Belgian TV on Sunday he believed Salah had at the last moment decided not go through with the attack.

He said the family wanted him to give himself up.

“That way he can give us the answers we seek, our family and the families of the victims,” he said.

© AFP 2015

Read: PM confirms terror alert to stay at highest possible level

Read: Police issue photo in attempt to identify third Stade de France attacker

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