Belgium: New searches, detentions in holiday plot probe
Brussels — Belgian authorities on Thursday announced the arrest of a 10th person in connection with last month’s bloodbath in Paris and said six others have been detained for questioning over a suspected plot to stage new attacks in Brussels during the holidays.
Law enforcement officials said there is no known connection between the two investigations, but they highlight the role of Belgium as a hotbed of Islamic radicalism in Europe.
Authorities said a Belgian national born in 1993 and identified only as Ayoub B. has been charged with terrorist murder and participation in the activities of a terrorist group for his suspected involvement in the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, claimed by the Islamic State group.
The man was detained Wednesday following a search in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, where some of the Paris attackers lived, including suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
Nine people in Belgium had already been arrested in connection with the attacks, in which 130 people lost their lives and hundreds more were injured.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office also said six people were brought in for questioning and seven searches carried out Thursday morning in various Brussels-area locations in connection with a suspected plot to stage extremist attacks over the holidays on police, soldiers and popular sites in the Belgian capital. It said a magistrate will decide whether arrest warrants should be issued against the six.
Computer materials, cellphones and equipment for airsoft, a sport that uses replica firearms to fire non-metallic pellets, were confiscated in the searches, the prosecutor’s office said. Previous searches in the case led to the impounding of military-style training uniforms and IS propaganda material, the office has said.
Two men were arrested earlier this week in connection with the suspected holiday plot, both members of a motorcycle club. On Thursday, a judge ordered Said S., a Belgian national born in 1985, and Mohammed K. born in 1988, held for another month, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office said.
In relation to the detention of Ayoub B. on Wednesday, police also raided a residence on Molenbeek’s Rue Delaunoy and seized “about 10 cellphones.”
The same address had also been targeted three days after the Paris attacks by police searching for suspect Salah Abdeslam, who is believed to have acted as logistician for the Nov. 13 killers and remains a fugitive. Abdeslam’s brother Brahim was also one of the suicide bombers in Paris.
The prosecutor’s office said no weapons or explosives were found in Wednesday’s search. It provided no further details, but French police reports cited by the Le Monde newspaper have said the Paris attackers were in cellphone contact with two numbers in Belgium during the night of the killings.
Le Monde said the police reports show the attacks were orchestrated or at least closely monitored, in real time, from Belgium.
Paris prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre confirmed to The Associated Press details released in Le Monde of the cellphone communications and activity. They included a text message sent from a suicide bomber to a phone in Belgium moments before three gunmen stormed a rock concert in the Bataclan theater, and Internet searches about the concert venue and the American headliner band, Eagles of Death Metal.
Within five days, Ayoub B. is to appear before another judge, who will decide whether he should continue to be held in preventive detention, the Belgian prosecutor’s office said.