Terror Crackdown in Europe: Raids in Belgium, France and Germany

A French police officer stands at a road block near the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, Jan. 10, 2015. | AP Photo

More than two dozen suspects have been arrested in Belgium, France and Germany in continuing searches for suspected terrorists, authorities said Friday.

Thirteen people were detained in Belgium and two arrested in France in an anti-terror sweep following a firefight in which two suspected terrorists were killed, and more suspects are being sought, Belgian authorities said.

French and German authorities arrested at least 14 other people Friday suspected of links to the Islamic State group, and a Paris train station was evacuated, with Europe on alert for new potential terrorist attacks.

On Thursday, Belgian police moved in on a suspected terrorist hideout in the eastern city of Verviers, killing two suspects and wounding and arresting a third.

Eric Van der Sypt, a Belgian federal magistrate, said Friday the terrorists were within hours of implementing a plan to kill police on the street or in their offices.

More than a dozen searches had led to the discovery of four military-style weapons including Kalashnikov assault rifles, Van der Sypt told a news conference.

“I cannot confirm that we arrested everyone in this group,” he added.

Visiting a scarred Paris on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met French President Francois Hollande and visited the sites of the city’s worst terrorist bloodshed in decades. Twenty people, including the three gunmen, were killed last week in attacks on a kosher supermarket and the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and on police.

Hollande thanked Kerry for offering France support, saying, “You’ve been victims yourself of an exceptional terrorist attack on Sept. 11. You know what it means for a country. … We must find together appropriate responses.”

Paris is at its highest terrorism alert level, and police evacuated the Gare de l’Est train station Friday after a bomb threat. The station, one of several main stations in Paris, serves cities in eastern Paris and countries to the east.

The Paris prosecutor’s office, meanwhile, said at least 12 people were arrested in anti-terrorism raids in the region, targeting people linked to one of the French gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, who claimed ties to the Islamic State group. Police officials earlier told The Associated Press that they were seeking up to eight to 10 potential accomplices.

In Berlin, police arrested two men Friday morning on suspicion of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group in Syria.

Across Europe, anxiety has grown as the hunt continues for potential accomplices of the three Paris terrorists, and as authorities try to prevent attacks by the thousands of European extremists who have joined Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.

Hollande said France is “waging war” against terrorism and will not back down from international military operations against Islamic extremists despite recent deadly attacks.

“It is not a war against religion, it’s a war against hate,” Hollande said in a speech to leading diplomats.

The Belgian raid on a former bakery was another palpable sign that terror had seeped deep into Europe’s heartland as security forces struck against militants some of who may be returnees from holy war in Syria.

After the gun smoke lifted, police continued with searches in Verviers and the greater Brussels area, seeking more clues in a weeks-long investigation that started well before the terrorism rampage in France last week. The Belgian operations had no apparent link to the attacks in France.

Hollande thanked Kerry for offering support, saying: “You’ve been victims yourself of an exceptional terrorist attack on Sept. 11. You know what it means for a country. … Together, we must find appropriate responses.”

In a separate speech to diplomats, Hollande said France is “waging war” against terrorism and will not back down from its international military operations against Islamic extremists in Iraq and northern Africa. France’s Parliament voted this week to extend airstrikes against Islamic State extremists in Iraq.

The Belgian raid on a former bakery was another palpable sign that terror had seeped deep into Europe’s heartland as security forces struck against militants, some of who may be returnees from jihad in Syria.

That investigation had started well before last week’s rampage in Paris, but Belgian authorities are separately looking for possible links between a man they arrested in the southern city of Charleroi for illegal trade in weapons and Coulibaly, who killed four people in the kosher supermarket.

Several other countries are also involved in the hunt for possible accomplices to Coulibaly and the gunmen who attacked the newspaper, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi. The Kouachi brothers claimed allegiance to al-Qaida in Yemen; Coulibaly to the Islamic State group.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press on Friday that Iraqi intelligence officers warned their French counterparts about two months ago that a group linked to Khorasan in Syria was plotting an attack in Paris. The official spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to brief media.

It was impossible to verify how serious or advanced the alleged plot was. Iraq’s prime minister also warned in September of possible attacks in New York and Paris.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s