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Manhunt for terrorist suspects continues as Islamic State flag found at scene of shootout

One person was killed and four officers injured in a shootout last night.

Image: Associated Press

Updated at 10.58

A VAST POLICE manhunt is under way in Brussels today after a Kalashnikov-wielding assailant was killed and four officers wounded during an anti-terror search linked to the Paris attacks.

Prosecutors said in a press conference today that the suspect gunned down was found with an Islamic State flag, a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a book of Salafist literature next to his body.

Thierry Werts, a spokesman for anti-terror prosecutors, told a press conference that the man had been identified as 35-year-old Belkaid Mohamed, an Algerian national who was illegally in Belgium.

“Next to the body was a Kalashnikov, a book on Salafism and an Islamic State flag,” Werts said.

Mohamed was “neutralised” by police snipers on Tuesday in response to heavy gunfire from the building where police on a routine search had stumbled upon him.

Werts said that “two persons who were probably in the flat and whose identity is not known fled the scene and are being tracked down”.

“The investigation continues and the danger remains,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel earlier told the broadcaster RTL, though he refused to provide any further details concerning an ongoing investigation.

Michel said operations had continued throughout the night. He did not rule out that the terror alert in Brussels could be raised to the highest level after a meeting of the national security council later in the day.

Gunfire

A team of Belgian and French police were taken by surprise as they carried out a routine search yesterday on a property in the quiet suburb of Forest, or Vorst by its Dutch name.

The police intervention sparked a series of gun battles that wounded four officers and left children trapped in nearby schools.

Belgium Raid Special operations police take positions during the raid in Brussels Source: Associated Press

Michel thanked residents for their “composure” as bursts of gunfire erupted in the streets and dozens of heavily-armed police with balaclavas and sub-machineguns patrolled the area.

The mayor of Forest, Marc-Jean Ghyssels, told RTBF radio that all schools and nurseries in his jurisdiction were open today and that life was back to normal.

“There wasn’t a direct threat to the public, it’s a search that turned badly,” he said.

The dead person had not been identified but prosecutors said it was not Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the 13 November attacks in Paris claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group, which killed 130 people.

A French police source said the operation was focused on the associates of one, or several, of 11 people who have been charged in Belgium in connection with the Paris attacks.

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“In this operation, one or several people opened fire on the police as they came through the door” of the property in an initial search, the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

“One suspect armed with a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle was killed in an assault” by police about three hours later, it said, adding that officers were “actively pursuing investigations, day and night”.

A French policewoman, who Justice Minister Koen Geens said had been helping in a joint investigation between French and Belgian police, was among three officers wounded in the initial assault. A fourth was hurt in an exchange of fire.

Security forces launched a huge operation after the gun battle broke out, cordoning off the area with vehicles while a police helicopter hovered overhead, AFP reporters at the scene said.

Belgium Raid Special operations officers involved in yesterday's raid secure the area Source: Associated Press

As the scene unfolded, children and teachers in two schools and two nurseries nearby were asked to remain indoors. They were eventually let out one-by-one, accompanied by armed police.

Police later started letting people back into their homes and 50 people who had been trapped in an Aldi supermarket were also allowed out.

By early Tuesday calm had largely returned to the area and most locals had been allowed to return to their home. Access to the scene of the shootout was also reopened.

© AFP 2016

Read: One dead, four officers injured in shooting during hunt ‘for Paris suspects’

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