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Belgian police arrest 16 after huge security lockdown


Belgian police have arrested 16 people during a series of raids after a huge security lockdown, but Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam was not among them, prosecutors say.

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“Sixteen people were arrested” including one person who was injured after police opened fire on a car that drove towards police, federal prosecutor spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told a press conference early on Monday.

“Salah Abdeslam was not caught during the raids,” he added.

Nineteen raids were carried out in various Brussels neighbourhoods including Molenbeek, a poor immigrant district where Abdeslam is from.

Police made three other raids in the industrial town of Charleroi, where an international airport is sited.

No weapons or explosives were found in the raids, prosecutors said.

A judge will decide on Monday whether to continue detaining them, they added.

The prosecutor said it was not immediately clear if the person injured in the car, which they eventually stopped in the centre of Brussels, was linked to the Paris attacks case.

Earlier, the Belgian premier said Brussels would remain at the highest possible alert level, with schools and metros closed over a “serious and imminent” security threat similar to the Paris attacks.

“The threat is considered serious and imminent,” Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Sunday, a day after the authorities raised the alert level from three to four in the city that also hosts EU and NATO headquarters.

The city’s metro system will stay closed and all schools will be shut on Monday, he said after a meeting of the national security council to review the situation.

A tense Brussels was locked down for a second day on Sunday with armed police and troops patrolling near deserted streets amid fears jihadists planned a repeat of the Paris attacks which left 130 people dead on November 13.

Michel made no direct mention of the manhunt underway for several suspects linked to the attack, including Salah Abdeslam who managed to slip past French security forces after the carnage in Paris.

Salah’s brother Brahim died when be blew himself up outside a bar as others attacked restaurants, a rock concert and the national stadium.

“What we fear are similar attacks, with several individuals in several places,” Michel told reporters.

“We are very aware that this situation is very difficult for everyone … we want to thank everyone for their efforts and everyone must remain vigilant,” he said.

“We are doing everything possible to return to normal life.”

The prime minister said officials would review the situation again on Monday, given the disruption expected in Brussels, which is a diplomatic hub as home to the European Union, NATO and a host of major political and business groups.

Michel said the rest of the country would remain on security alert level three, meaning an attack is considered possible and the threat credible.


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