Update: A suspect held in an anti-terror operation in Brussels was wearing a fake suicide vest, prosecutors said today.
“No bomb has so far been found. The suicide vest found on a suspect was fake,” the Brussels prosecutor’s office said.
Brussels: A suspect wearing an explosive belt has been arrested following a bomb alert in a shopping mall in the center of Brussels, local media reported. Prime Minister Charles Michel told RTL the situation is “very suspicious” and called for a meeting of the National Security Council.
The incident took place in the City2 Shopping Mall in the heart of the Belgian capital, local media said, adding that it was a bomb alert. The area was cordoned off and emergency services arrived at the scene.
The police were notified at 5.30am “of a suspicious situation,” said Ilse Van de Keere, spokeswoman for the Brussels-Ixelles police. “A security perimeter was established and the SEDEE unit [Belgian armed forces] is at the site. The operations are still ongoing.”
Traffic at the nearby Jardin Botanique Boulevard was blocked as well as at Rogier metro station.
Media reported that a male suspect wearing an explosive belt was arrested on the spot. Bel RTL reporter Sébastien Rosenfeld noted a heavy police and military presence near the shopping mall. “There is a very strong threat because police were warned there was a man with an explosive belt apparently in the [mall] building.”
“A man was arrested at 5.30 this morning, possibly in possession of explosives. The Army’s bomb disposal team is verifying whether this is the case,” a spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor said, as cited by Reuters.
Belgian media also reported that another suspect has been arrested in the Brussels area of Shaerbeek.
Brussels has been on high alert since twin suicide bombings hit Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station on March 22. The station is near the buildings of the EU Commission and the Council of the European Union, as well as NATO’s headquarters.
Earlier in June, reports emerged that Belgium’s capital may once again see terror attacks beginning this month. Extremists may target schools, hospitals and public places, where people gather for Euro-2016 related events, during the Islamic Ramadan holiday.
Numerous raids have been conducted in the mainly Muslim Molenbeek area of Brussels, which is often referred to as an “Islamist hotspot.” Many of the suspects involved in the Paris attacks grew up and lived in Molenbeek, including terror mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Abdeslam brothers, and Mohamed Abrini, who was also involved in the Brussels attacks.
On Friday, at least 12 people were arrested during anti-terrorist operations across Belgium on suspicion of plotting attacks. Three of the suspects have been charged with attempting to commit terrorist acts, while nine were released.
Reports surfaced that a detained suspect worked at Zaventem Airport and had previously contacted one of the Brussels’ suicide bombers.