BRUSSELS, Belgium (UPDATED) – Belgium on Monday, November 16, charged two people with involvement in terrorism after they were arrested over the Paris attacks, as a major police operation in Brussels failed to nab a key suspect.
The charges came as French President Francois Hollande said that Friday’s attacks in which 129 people were killed were planned in Syria but launched from Belgium, with French help.
In Belgium, the pair were charged “with a terrorist act and participation in the activities of a terrorist group”, while five others held at the weekend were freed without charge, the federal prosecutor’s office said.
One of those released was Mohamed Abdeslam — whose brother Brahim was one of the suicide attackers in Paris, and whose other brother Salah is being hunted by police.
The prosecutors confirmed that a major police raid in Brussels on Monday aimed at arresting Salah Abdeslam had ended without anyone being detained.
Dozens of officers in balaclavas and carrying submachineguns surrounded a house in the Molenbeek district in western Brussels, a the run-down immigrant area which is increasingly under scrutiny as a hotbed of European militancy.
“The operation is over and the result is negative. No one was arrested,” a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, Eric Van Der Sypt, told AFP.
Van Der Sypt had earlier confirmed that the raid targeted Salah – a 26-year-old former Brussels tram worker who is the subject of an international arrest warrant – without saying whether he was in the house.
His brother Mohamed was released because there was “nothing against him,” Mohamed Abdeslam’s lawyer Nathalie Gallant told AFP.
“He has had no contact with his brothers in recent days,” she added.
PM vows crackdown
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Monday that the authorities would crack down on extremism in Molenbeek, where Brahim had been living before he blew himself up outside a cafe in Paris on Friday.
“I have asked the security services to give us plans very quickly, for Molenbeek but also other areas, so that we can have a much more organised approach to the fight against radicalism,” he told RTL radio.
Molenbeek was home to one of the 2004 Madrid train bombers and the main suspect in the 2014 Jewish Museum attack in Brussels, while the perpetrator of a foiled attack in August on an Amsterdam-Paris train stayed in Molenbeek with his sister before boarding in Brussels.
A Belgian newspaper said meanwhile that Brahim had links to a Belgian Islamic State (ISIS) militant believed to be the mastermind of a jihadist cell dismantled in January.
Brahim’s name appears in several police files alongside leading jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud – who also lived in Molenbeek – relating to criminal cases in 2010 and 2011, Flemish-language newspaper De Standaard reported.
“Investigators see a link with Verviers,” it said, referring to an eastern Belgian town where police shot dead two militants in January and broke up a cell that was planning to kill Belgian police officers in the streets days after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.
Abaaoud – a 27-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent who allegedly led the Verviers cell and had fought with the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Syria – remains at large. He has claimed in the ISIS English-language magazine Dabiq to have rejoined the group in Syria. – Danny Kemp, Lachlan Carmichael, AFP/Rappler.com
More on the Paris attacks:
- Over 128 killed, 180 injured in Paris attacks
- IN PHOTOS: November 13 Paris attacks
- ISIS claims Paris attacks
- US band caught up in Paris attacks reported safe
- Witnesses tell of ‘bloodbath’ at Paris rock concert
- Shock, horror for 80,000 fans at Stade de France after Paris attacks
- French search for friends, shelter online after Paris attacks
Global, social media reactions
- World leaders condemn Paris attacks, vow to help
- Pope Francis on Paris attacks: ‘This is not human’
- Aquino: ‘Philippines stands shoulder to shoulder with France’
- ‘This time it’s war:’ French press react with horror to attacks
- World mourns and condemns attacks in Paris
- #PrayForParis, #Fusillade trends on Twitter amid Paris attacks
- Celebrities call for support, prayers for Paris
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