Originally published in Fox News
Police stopped a “Belgian Charlie Hebdo” late Thursday, with government agents killing at least two in raids aimed at jihadists returning from Syria who were planning to launch terrorist attacks “on a grand scale,” according to police and prosecutors.
The raids included one on an apartment above a bakery in the eastern city of Verviers, authorities said. They said no officers were injured and that the suspects opened fire on them as the swooped in. Authorities said the terror cell had ties to ISIS and was planning a major attack.
“We’ve averted a Belgian Charlie Hebdo,” an unidentified police officer told La Meuse.
It was not known if the suspects in Belgium had direct links to the terror cell that carried out last week’s attacks in Paris. But much of Europe is deeply concerned about homegrown jihadists sympatizers – and passport holders – who are returning battle-hardened from Iraq and Syria. Thursday’s raids came as a man suspected of selling guns used in last week’s terror attacks in France was being detained in another part of the country.
Magistrate Eric Van der Sypt told reporters in Brussels the suspects were on the verge of committing a major terrorist attack. He said at emergency news conference that anti-terrorist raids are underway in the Brussels region and Verviers and that Belgium’s terror alert level was raised to its second highest level. The raids were part of an investigation into extremists returning from Syria.
Belgian public television channel RTBF reported that the public prosecutor’s office confirmed the deaths of two suspects and arrests of “several” more. Federal prosecutors were quoted as saying there had been a police operation aimed at jihadists who have returned from the Middle East to the city of 55 000, some 70 miles from Brussels.
Explosions and gunfire were apparently heard near the station, according to Belgium’s public broadcaster RTBF. The Belga news agency said there were several casualties and police activity was continuing. Another official told the agency it was “jihadist-related” and a news conference was scheduled for 8 p.m. local time.
Earlier, Reuters reported that Belgian authorities detained a man for arms dealing and are investigating whether he supplied one of the Islamist gunmen involved in the attacks in Paris, including a raid on the headquarters of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a separate siege at a Jewish supermarket two days later. A total of 17 victims and three terrorists were killed in the events.
Belgian media reported that the suspect turned himself in in the southern city of Charleroi on Tuesday, saying he had been in touch with Amedy Coulibaly, the behind the supermarket attack.
According to the reports, the man said that he swindled Coulibaly in a car sale, but police later found evidence that the two were negotiating about the sale of ammunition for a 7.62 mm caliber firearm.
It was not known if the raid in Belgium was directly related to recent events in France, but the nations share a 385-mile border and are close culturally and politically.On Sunday, the offices of Belgian newspaper Le Soir, a French-language publication that published caricatures of Prophet Muhammad to show solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, were evacuated after a bomb threat. Also on Sunday, thousands marched through Brussels to show support for the French tabloid which was targeted by a pair of radicalized brothers because of its penchant for publishing images of Islam’s prophet.
A German tabloid that reprinted caricatures of Muhammad was firebombed on Sunday. But Charlie Hebdo came out with a new issue on Wednesday, with a caricature of Muhammad on the cover under the title “Tout est pardonne,” or “All is forgiven.”