anti-terror operation

Fake 'suicide belt' containing biscuits and salt found on Brussels suspect

A man with psychiatric problems was arrested.

Updated 11.50am

A MAN WITH psychiatric problems who was carrying a fake suicide belt full of salt and biscuits was arrested today after he triggered a major anti-terror operation at a Brussels shopping mall, prosecutors said.

Belgium remains on a high state of alert after Islamic State-claimed bomb attacks in March left 32 people dead at the airport and at a metro station near European Union headquarters buildings.

Prosecutors said they were still investigating whether the man — who had once claimed he had been urged to join the Islamic State group in Syria — had any genuine links to terrorism or not.

The 26-year-old man, identified only as JB, called police to say he had been abducted in a car and dropped at the City 2 mall in central Brussels with an explosives belt that was to have been detonated remotely.

“After an initial inspection it was confirmed that it contained salt and biscuits. Any threat of an explosion has been initially ruled out,” prosecutor’s spokesman Rym Kechiche said in a statement.

JB is known to the authorities for various incidents, including some linked to psychiatric problems.

Police later located the car identified by the suspect in the Schaerbeek district of the capital and planned to question its owner.

Prime Minister Charles Michel held an emergency meeting with members of his security cabinet this morning. ”The situation is for now under control. We remain vigilant,” Michel said after the meeting.

The incident began at about 6.30am (4.30am GMT) this morning after a report of a man acting suspiciously near the City 2 shopping centre triggered a bomb alert, broadcaster RTL reported.

Bomb squad

The apparent threat had triggered a massive security operation.

A bomb squad team was deployed at the shopping centre, one of the main retail hubs of the Belgian capital.

Only one single exit remained open at the nearby Rogier metro station, where soldiers checked passengers bags and belongings.

Pictures showed police sealing off the immediate area.

The terror alert level in Brussels remained at level three out of four, Belga news agency reported.

The City 2 mall had been mentioned in Belgian media in recent days as a possible target for attacks.

Belgium is still reeling from the Islamic State suicide bombings at Brussels airport and on the city’s metro on March 22 which killed 32 people and wounded hundreds more.

And the incident comes only days after Belgian authorities charged three men with “attempted terrorist murder” after raiding dozens of homes linked to a reported threat to fans during a Euro 2016 football game.

Prosecutors charged the three men, named as Samir C, Moustapha B and Jawad B, but released nine others after questioning.

The areas searched included neighbourhoods in Brussels where November’s jihadist attacks in Paris and the Brussels suicide bombings had planned their assaults.

Authorities said at the time they were responding to a need for “an immediate intervention”.

Per capita, Belgium has produced the highest number of so-called foreign fighters in the EU who have travelled to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq, an estimated 500.

After Saturday’s swoop, Michel said the country would be taking “additional and updated security measures.”

However, he pledged that public events planned for the coming days would go ahead, he said, including those linked to the Euro championships.

“We want to continue living normally,” the premier said.

And despite the lockdown in the area, the terror alert level in Brussels remained at level three, Belga reported.

On Saturday, a source close to Belgian authorities confirmed to AFP that several leading political figures have recently had their security increased.

According to state broadcaster RTBF and daily Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, 30 people and their families have had their personal security stepped up since Friday, including the prime minister, interior minister and justice minister.

Euro 2016 host France is also on high alert for possible attacks during the championship.

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