8 arrested in nationwide counterterrorism raids in Belgium

Brussels — Police officers in Belgium have arrested eight people during counterterrorism raids across the country as part of operations aimed at thwarting possible attacks, the federal prosecutor’s office said Tuesday.

Antwerp federal police carried out five searches in Merksem, Borgerhout, Deurne, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek and Eupen on Monday night at the request of an investigating judge. The prosecutor’s office said five people were arrested, but it didn’t give details about what was found.

“At least two of the people involved are suspected of planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Belgium. The target of the attack has not yet been determined,” prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, Brussels federal police carried out raids in the nearby localities of Zaventem, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek and Schaerbeek as part of a separate case and arrested three people.

“These people are also suspected of planning to carry out a terrorist attack in Belgium,” the office said. “There are links between the two cases, but further investigation will have to reveal the extent to which the two cases were intertwined.”

Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported that the Brussels and Antwerp cases initially focused on two young adults suspected of violent radicalism and that investigations revealed links between the two, with potentially dangerous individuals gravitating in their entourage.

According to the independent center in charge of assessing the terrorism and extremist risk in Belgium, the current threat on a scale from one to four is medium, at level two.

The arrests came as suspected members of a cell that carried out the deadliest peacetime attacks on Belgian soil seven years ago are on trial in Belgium. The defendants face charges including murder, attempted murder and membership, or participation, in the acts of a terrorist group, over the morning rush hour attacks at Belgium’s main airport and on the central commuter line on March, 22, 2016.

In addition to the 32 people who died in Brussels that day, about 900 were injured or suffered mental trauma.

Among the accused is Salah Abdeslam — the only survivor among the ISIS extremists who in 2015 struck the Bataclan theater in Paris, city cafes and France’s national stadium. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole over the atrocities in the French capital.

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