Belgium charges three with terrorism offences

Arrests come at a time of heightened security fears during the ongoing UEFA Euro football tournament in France

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Belgium authorities have increased presence of security forces to deal with terrorist threat

Belgian prosecutors charged three men with terrorism offences on Saturday following overnight raids that took place amid heightened security in Belgium and France due to the Euro 2016 football tournament.

Three months after bombers killed 32 people in Brussels, police searched dozens of houses across the country and arrested 12 people the night before Belgium's Euro 2016 game against Ireland. 

Nine of them were released after questioning but three Belgian nationals identified as 27-year-old Samir C., 40-year-old Moustapha B., and 29-year-old Jawad B., were charged with "having attempted to commit a terrorist murder and for participation in the activities of a terrorist group", the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Some media reports said the suspects had planned attacks against fans watching the Euro 2016 games in Brussels, and had possibly been targeting Saturday afternoon's Belgium vs Ireland match.

Earlier on Saturday, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel chaired a meeting of the government's security council after the raids and said soccer-related events would go on as planned with extra security measures.

"We want to continue living normally," Michel told a news conference. "The situation is under control."

"We are extremely vigilant, we are monitoring the situation hour by hour and we will continue with determination the fight against extremism, radicalisation and terrorism," he added.

No weapons or explosives were found during the overnight searches, which also involved 152 garage lockups.

Football Matches Targeted?

Flemish public broadcaster VTM said the people arrested overnight were suspected of planning an attack in Brussels this weekend during one of Belgium's football matches.

Areas where fans watch matches in Brussels were potential targets, as well as other crowded areas such as shopping centres and stations, Belgian media reported.

The Belgian crisis centre in charge of coordinating security responses decided not to raise the security level to the maximum that would indicate an imminent threat of attack, Michel said.

With the Euro 2016 football tournament underway in neighbouring France, Europe is on high security alert.

March's deadly attacks by suicide bombers in Brussels followed attacks in Paris last November in which 130 people died.

Investigators have found links between the Brussels and Paris attackers, some of whom were based in Belgium.

TRTWorld, Reuters