Brussels: Seven terror suspects were in custody in Belgium and France today as under-fire European authorities stepped up the fight against jihadist networks following triple bombings in Brussels claimed by the Islamic State group.
Six people were being held after raids across the Belgian capital yesterday, two days after airport and metro suicide blasts that left 31 people dead and 300 injured. And in the Paris suburbs, police arrested a man accused of plotting an attack in France that was “in the advanced stages” and found a small stash of explosives.
In Brussels, families faced an agonising wait after forensic experts warned it could take weeks to identify fatalities.
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived for talks with the Belgian authorities, who have faced heavy criticism over how the Brussels attackers — at least three of whom were known to authorities — slipped through the net.
The man arrested in Paris was a French national who “belongs to a terrorist network that sought to strike our country”, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said late yesterday, hailing the “major arrest”.
Police evacuated an apartment block in the rundown northern suburb of Argenteuil, where a small quantity of explosives was found.
While Cazeneuve said no link to the Paris or Brussels attacks had emerged, police sources said Friday that the suspect had in July been found guilty in absentia, alongside Paris ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, of being part of a group planning to go to Syria. Named by police sources as Reda K, Cazeneuve said the suspect had been under surveillance “for several weeks” and his arrest was the result of “close and constant cooperation between European services”.
European authorities are under huge pressure to better coordinate the tracking of homegrown extremists and those returning from Syria, as evidence grows of a thriving jihadist network straddling France and Belgium.
Prosecutors have confirmed that Khalid El Bakraoui, who blew himself up at Maalbeek metro station shortly after his brother Ibrahim did the same at Zaventem airport, was the subject of an international terrorism warrant over the Paris attacks.
Ibrahim El Bakraoui had been arrested and deported by Turkey, which had warned Belgium he was a “foreign terrorist fighter,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday.