Two Men Killed In Belgium Raid That Thwarted Major Terror Attack

( [email protected] ) Jan 15, 2015 05:17 PM EST
Belgian police are reporting two dead suspects and one in custody after an anti-terror raid in the country's industrial town of Verviers on Thursday.
Belgian police during anti-terror raids conducted near Brussels today. Photo: Olivier Hoslet, EPA

Belgian police are reporting two dead suspects and one in custody after an anti-terror raid in the country's industrial town of Verviers on Thursday.

The raid followed surveillance of a terrorist cell that had just returned to the country from Syria. The group was planning an attack on police buildings in the coming hours or days, according to Magistrate Eric Van der Sypt.

"The suspects immediately and for several minutes opened fire with military weaponry and handguns on the special units of the federal police before they were neutralised," Van der Sypt said to reporters. No police or citizens were harmed during the raid.

One witness described what she saw to the BBC: "We were going back from shopping and saw the police cars," Marylou Fletcher said of the raid. "We thought there was an accident then we heard something blowing up. We started running but did not understand what had happened. There was a lot of gunshots."

An amateur video of the raid was released that allegedly shows the raid. Although the video is dark, the sounds of explosions and gunfire can clearly be heard.

Verviers is located about 70 miles southeast of the capital city of Brussels and has a population of around 56,000. Subsequent raids were also reported closer to Brussels with a total of ten search warrants issued for the area, but there's been no word of more deaths at this time. Van der Sypt expects a number of arrests as the raids continue in and around Brussels, Molenbeek, and Vilvorde.

The anti-terror raid comes on the heels of one of France's deadliest terror attacks last week at the headquarters of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo where 12 people were killed. Belgian media outlets were reporting that some of the weapons used in the Paris attack were bought near a train station in Brussels, but the police magistrate says that there is no official link.

"This was in the framework of an operation looking into an operational cell made up of people, some of whom coming back from Syria," the prosecutor's spokesman Thierry Werts said. "The investigation made it possible to determine that the group was about to carry out major terrorist attacks in Belgium imminently."

Europe is on high alert as terrorist activity has been increasing in recent years. Officials estimate that over 3,000 Europeans have left to join terror organizations in Syria, and an estimated 500 have returned with many of those being implicated in various attack plans.

Recent attacks include a French-Algerian ISIS fighter who returned to Brussels to kill four people at a Jewish museum, and a failed plot by another French-Algerian extremist who was found with high explosives in his apartment.

According to a report at The Guardian, "One of Belgium's best-known jihadi organisations - Sharia4Belgium - is at the heart of a huge, ongoing trial in Antwerp in which 46 members of the group have been accused of belonging to a terrorist organisation and brainwashing young men in Belgium into fighting a holy war in Syria."

The terror threat level in Belgium has been raised to three, which is the second highest level, according to Magistrate Van der Sypt.