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Belgian authorities arrest 12 in sweeping anti-terrorism raids
Belgian authorities conducted a sweeping round of anti-terrorism raids late Friday and early Saturday, arresting 12 people in an investigation that prosecutors said required "immediate intervention."
The late-night raids on dozens of houses and 152 garages came amid heightened terrorism fears in Europe and the United States. On Sunday, an attacker who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. The next day, a gunman in Paris killed a French police officer and his companion. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.
Belgian authorities on Friday tightened security around four top Belgian leaders, including Prime Minister Charles Michel, after specific threats to their safety, according to Belgian media reports. The Belgian federal prosecutors who announced Saturday's arrests did not disclose the specific plot they were trying to disrupt.
The raids were conducted in 16 Belgian municipalities, most of them near Brussels. No weapons or explosives were found, the prosecutors said. Police detained 40 people before decided to arrest 12 of them.
European authorities have been concerned about terrorism threats during the European soccer championships, which are currently being held in France. Belgium plays Ireland on Saturday afternoon, a match that expected to draw crowds across Belgium to watch. And Islamic State leaders have called for attacks during the month of Ramadan, which ends early July.
It was not immediately clear whether the raids were connected to a Belgian counterterrorism warning reported Wednesday that said that a group of people had recently departed Syria for Belgium and France with the intention of carrying out attacks. But Belgian prosecutors suggested Saturday that they had disrupted a plot for an imminent attack.
"The investigatory results necessitated an immediate intervention," Belgian prosecutors said in a statement.
Belgian authorities did not connect the raids to the March 22 attacks on the Brussels airport and metro that left 32 dead. An eighth suspect in those attacks, identified by prosecutors as a 30-year-old Belgian citizen Youssef E.A., was arrested Friday, authorities said. Authorities on Friday took five other suspects in the attacks to a Brussels safehouse to conduct a reconstruction, prosecutors said.
[Source: By Michael Birnbaum, The Washington Post, Brussels, 18Jun16]
Islamic paramilitary organizations
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