Brussels Placed at Highest Alert Level; Subway Is ClosedThe New York Times Company
The Belgian government’s threat analysis unit raised the country’s threat level to 3 on Monday, warning of a “possible and likely threat.” On Friday night, it raised the threat level to 4 for the capital region, Prime Minister Charles Michel announced.
“Level 4 means that the threat is serious and imminent,” Mr. Michel told reporters on Saturday. “The raising of the threat is a result of information, relatively precise, of a risk of an attack similar to the one that unfolded in Paris.” He said the threat involved “multiple individuals capable of striking a number of sites with weapons and explosives, maybe at the same time.”At least four of the Paris attackers lived in the Brussels area.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who is believed to have been the chief planner and who died in a police raid outside Paris on Wednesday, lived in the Molenbeek neighborhood, as did Ibrahim Abdeslam, one of the suicide bombers, and his brother Salah, who is at large. Another suicide bomber, Bilal Hadfi, lived in the Neder-Over-Heembeek district.
The arrests of two other Belgians in connection with the attacks have further raised alarm here.
A person who was arrested on Friday in Brussels has been charged with “participation in terrorist attacks and participation in the activities of a terrorist organization,” a federal magistrate, Eric Van der Sijpt, announced on Saturday.
A search of the person’s house came up with a weapon, but no explosives, Mr. Van der Sijpt said. He did not name the person, but several Belgian newspapers described him as a 39-year-old Moroccan who lives in the Jette section of Brussels, gave help to Salah Abdeslam after the attacks and has a brother who is fighting in Syria. The government had already arrested two other Belgians, accusing them of helping Mr. Abdeslam by driving him from Paris to Brussels.
Also on Saturday, Turkish authorities arrested an Islamic State militant at a luxury hotel in Antalya, along with two others. They identified him as Ahmad Dahmani, 26, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, and said he was trying to illegally cross the border into Syria.
“We believe that Dahmani was in contact with the terrorists who perpetrated the Paris attacks,” said a Turkish official who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with government protocol.
Mr. Dahmani arrived from Amsterdam on Nov. 14 — the day after the Paris attacks. “There is no record of the Belgian authorities having warned Turkey about Dahmani — which is why there was no entry ban,” the official said, adding, “Had the Belgian authorities alerted us in due time, Dahmani could have been apprehended at the airport.”
The storming on Friday of a hotel in Bamako, Mali, added to the anxieties in Belgium. Six Belgians were held hostage in the hotel, of whom four were released and two were killed, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on Saturday.Mr. Michel, in his news conference, said the suspension of service on the Brussels Métro would be reassessed on Sunday afternoon.
“We ask you to remain peaceful and avoid panic,” Mr. Michel said. “It is a serious situation and we are trying with the security forces to do everything to keep the situation under control.”
Earlier in the week, Mr. Michel said he would push legal changes to make it easier to capture and try suspected terrorists operating in Belgium and seek constitutional changes to extend, to 72 hours from 24 hours, the period terrorism suspects can be held by the police without charge.
He also called for imprisoning jihadists returning to Belgium and requiring anyone considered sufficiently radicalized to be a threat to wear an ankle bracelet. His plan would also ban the anonymous sale of telephone SIM cards, lift restrictions on what times of day the police can conduct raids on terrorism suspects and allow the authorities to arrest or expel religious figures “who preach hatred.”
In an interview published Saturday in the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, Interior Minister Jan Jambon said that up to 85 of the 130 Belgians who had returned from fighting in Syria lived in Molenbeek and that the government did not even know precisely who lived there.
“It’s unacceptable that we don’t know who lives on the territory of this community,” Mr. Jambon said. “There are apartments where two people are registered, but where 10 actually live.”
He called for a door-to-door census in the community, but also for improvements in infrastructure and education. “We have a societal responsibility to give a future to young people ages 15 and 16,” he said.
Mr. Hadfi, who blew himself up outside a McDonald’s near the Stade de France on Nov. 13, is the youngest of the attackers who have been identified so far. He was 20.
Ten days before the Paris attacks, his mother, Fatima, told the Belgian newspaper La Libre: “I’m scared of receiving a text message.”
Mr. Hadfi had been known to the Belgian authorities after leaving for Syria in February. On Thursday, the police raided six addresses linked to Mr. Hadfi’s relatives and entourage. The raids had been scheduled before the Paris attacks, officials said, but took on new urgency afterward.
Bilal was Fatima’s youngest child, a student in electrical studies at the Instituut Anneessens-Funck. His father died eight years ago. A French citizen, Bilal lived in Neder-over-Heembeek with his mother and three siblings.
His mother described him as a “pressure cooker” in Belgium. “I felt that he was going to explode one day or the next,” she said. He stopped smoking cigarettes and marijuana as he became radicalized.
Before he left for Syria, he told his mother that he was going to Morocco to visit his father’s grave. The day before he left, “he wasn’t in his normal state,” Fatima recalled.
“When he came over to the house his eyes were red,” she said. “He took me in his arms. He knew that it was a departure with no return.”
For three days after he left, he called his mother. Her daughter and two other sons came over on the fourth day. “My daughter said: ‘Bilal is gone.’ I said, ‘He’s dead?’ ‘No, he went to Syria.’ ”