Belgium police kill 2 in anti-terror raid
Verviers, Belgium — With Europe dreading more terror, Belgian authorities seized the initiative and said they pre-empted a major attack by as little as hours Thursday, killing two suspects in a firefight and arresting a third in a vast anti-terrorism sweep that stretched into the night.
The police raid on a former bakery in this provincial rustbelt town was another palpable sign that terror had seeped deep into Europe's heartland as security forces struck against returnees from Islamic holy war in Syria.
"You could smell the gunpowder," said neighbor Alexandre Massaux following a minutes-long firefight with automatic weapons and Kalashnikovs that was also punctuated by explosions.
Two suspects were killed and a third arrested and charged with belonging to a terrorist organization.
"As soon as they thought special forces were there, they opened fire," federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt said.
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 spree last week that led to 17 deaths in the Paris area. The Belgian operations had no apparent link to the terrorist acts committed in France.
And, unlike the Paris terrorists, who attacked the office of a satirical newspaper and a kosher grocery store, the suspects in Belgium were reportedly aiming at hard targets: police installations.
"They were on the verge of committing important terror attacks," Van der Sypt told a news conference in Brussels.
Across Europe, anxiety has grown as the manhunt continues for potential accomplices of the three Paris terrorists, all of whom were shot dead by French police. Authorities in Belgium signaled they were ready for more trouble by raising the national terror alert level from 2 to 3, the second-highest level.
"It shows we have to be extremely careful," Van der Sypt said. The Verviers suspects "were extremely well-armed men" equipped with automatic weapons, he said.
The suspects in Verviers opened fire on police when they closed in on them near the city's train station, the magistrate told reporters. There was an intense firefight for several minutes.
No police were wounded or killed in the clash, about 80 miles southeast of the capital, Brussels.