Explosions, Gunfire As Belgian Police Conduct Ongoing Anti-Terror Raids After Overnight Arrests
25 March, 2016
Latest: Police now say the raid in Brussels is related to the arrest that took place in Paris overnight. So much for the whole "no tangible evidence" line (see below).
- POLICE OPERATION IN BRUSSELS LINKED TO FOILED ATTACK PLOT IN FRANCE
Update: Police in Brussels are conducting raids in Shaerbeek, the site of the home searched in the wake of Tuesday's attacks. One person has reportedly been "neutralized" while witnesses have heard at least two explosions.
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European authorities are scrambling to avert further terrorist attacks across the bloc in the wake of Tuesday’s bombings in Brussels that killed nearly three dozen people and wounded hundreds more.
14 months after the January 2015 raid in Verviers that left two men with links to Paris mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud dead, Belgian authorities are apparently still no closer to dismantling the ISIS cell responsible for the attacks in France and the bombings that unfolded in the Brussels airport and metro earlier this week.
Paris fugitive Salah Abdeslam was captured last Friday, but at least two other suspects escaped a March 14 raid on a residence in Forest that was rented by one of the Bakraoui brothers. Revelations that the Bakraouis may have been involved in collecting the surveillance footage of a Belgian nuclear official found in a November 30 raid on an Auvelais home rented to Mohamed Bakkali (who may have sheltered Abaaoud and others) as well as the realization that a man seen with Abdeslam in September and previously known as “Soufiane Kayal,” was actually bomb maker Najim Laachraoui suggest authorities in Europe were either horrible at “connect the dots” as kids, simply didn’t take the threat of further attacks by the team seriously, or were willfully ignorant.
(Ibrahim el-Bakraouis ca. 2015)
Indeed, Khalid El Bakraoui was also the subject of an Interpol red notice as was Laachraoui. Ibrahim El Bakraoui was deported from Turkey, where President Erdogan swears he notified Belgian authorities of the danger. There are conflicting reports as to how Belgium and the Netherlands handled the information.
On Thursday and Friday, in an apparent effort to make up for lost time (and lost life), Belgian and French authorities conducted anti-terror raids that netted six arrests in Belgium and one in Paris.
Information on the Belgian arrests is sparse, but we do know that three people in a car were arrested outside the prosecutor's office, another two were rounded up in Jette, and one person was detained in a different part of the Belgian capital. Further details weren’t available but one has to wonder if perhaps someone is trying to get to Abdeslam who suddenly wants to be extradited to France “as soon as possible,” so he can “explain himself.”
(police sketch of second metro suspect)
Abdeslam claims he had no knowledge of Tuesday’s attack and did not know Laachraoui even though, as noted above, the two were seen together last year. “The apparent lack of urgency in questioning him heightened concern over Belgium’s handing of the terror threat,” The Telegraph writes adding that “Abdeslam denied knowing Najim Laachraoui, “despite [the fact that] Abdeslam is known to have accompanied him from Hungary to Belgium in September as Laachraoui travelled back from Syria under an alias, ‘Soufiane Kayal’".
Additionally, Spiegel reports that two men were arrested in Giessen and Dusseldorf by German police in connection with the Brussels attacks.
It’s also emerged that police questioned Abdeslam for only two hours after his arrest. Trump would not be happy.
Meanwhile, French police arrested a man they say was in the “advanced stages” of launching an attack. The French national, identified as Reda Kriket, was convicted in absentia in Brussels last summer of colluding with terrorists and planning to wage jihad in Syria. Also found guilty in that trial: Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Explosives and heavy weapons were found at Kriket’s Argenteuil residence.
“Mr. Kriket was convicted last July in Belgium along with more than 30 other members of a network of Islamist radicals for terrorist crimes,” WSJ notes. “The network had operated for several years before authorities tried to shut it down, and many of its members were already in Syria when they were convicted, plotting attacks against targets back home.”
Kriket was also tied to the Belgian recruiter known as "Father Christmas."
Hilariously, authorities are still hanging on to the notion that all of this isn’t inextricably intertwined. The Bakraouis as well as Laachraoui are being treated as belonging to a second cell that’s separate and distinct from Abaaoud’s cell despite voluminous evidence that suggests making distinctions here is largely meaningless and almost certainly counterproductive. “In May, a Brussels court is expected to deliver a verdict on a second group of alleged jihadists, which includes Najim Laachraoui, identified by U.S. and European officials as the second bomber killed in the suicide attack on the Brussels airport," WSJ continues. "There's no tangible evidence" linking the Paris arrest to the Brussels cell, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
Anyway, more information is expected either today or over the weekend on the arrests made by Belgian anti-terror police on Thursday and Friday, although we're resonably sure it will make no difference whatsoever in averting future attacks. What it will do however, is enshrine extra-legal search and seizure into European authorities' standard operating procedure.
"The tactic of detaining people first and asking questions later will likely become increasingly common," CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem said last night. "There will be lots more of them. They are going to be what's called over-broad. They are going to just try to find people or evidence that may stop the next terrorism attack, and they will figure out who they have under custody."
Now that's a policy the rising tide of right-wing nationalist politicians can get behind