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Belgian police arrested 12 people in overnight counter-terrorism raids

The arrests come amid increased security alerts in Belgium and Europe after warnings that the 2016 Euro soccer tournament could be a potential target for extremists.
June 18, 2016, 3:10pm
Police officers search a backpack at Antwerp Central train station in Antwerp, Belgium on Saturday, June 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Three Belgian nationals arrested overnight have been charged with attempting to commit terrorist murder and with taking part in the activities of a terrorist group, Belgium's federal prosecutor said on Saturday.

Nine other suspects arrested during the major anti-terror operation overnight on Friday have since been released. The operation came amid heightened security in Belgium and France around the Euro 2016 soccer tournament and just three months after extremist bombers wrought carnage in Brussels.


On Saturday, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel chaired a meeting of the government's security council 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, radicalization, and terrorism," he said.

Earlier on Saturday the Belgian federal prosecutor's office said 40 people had been taken in for questioning, 12 of whom were arrested "in connection with a criminal investigation concerning terrorism."

They said that the investigating judge will determine whether those 12 will be put in detention later on Saturday, but that results of an ongoing investigation into suspected terror cells "necessitated an immediate intervention."

"The investigation continues," the Belgian federal prosecutor's office added.

Related: Police Say They Arrested Four People Plotting New Terror Attacks in Belgium

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

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

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


The Belgian crisis center in charge of coordinating security responses decided not to raise the security level to the maximum level, which is reserved for indications of an imminent threat of attack, Michel said.

Public broadcaster RTBF said Belgium's crisis center on Friday had placed several government ministers, including Michel, under heightened protection.

Michel said extra security measures had been taken for some people but did not name them.

With the Euro 2016 soccer tournament underway in neighboring France, Europe is on high security alert, particularly in the wake of the attacks in Brussels in March and in Paris last November.

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

Related: Ukraine Detains Man Accused of Planning Attacks on Euro 2016 Soccer Championship in France

On Monday, a French police couple were stabbed to death outside their home in Paris in an attack claimed by Islamic State. In a video posted on social networks, the attacker, Larossi Abballa, linked their deaths to the soccer tournament, saying: "The Euros will be a graveyard."

Separately, a French judicial source told Reuters on Friday that a 22-year-old man suspected of planning attacks on tourists had been jailed on terrorism charges after being arrested at the start of the week.

On Wednesday Belgian police received an anti-terror alert warning that a group of Islamic State fighters had recently left Syria en route for Europe planning attacks in Belgium and France, security officials said.

Also on Friday police arrested and detained a 30-year-old man named as Youssef EA, a Belgian national, on suspicion of taking part in terrorist activities in connection with the Brussels attacks.

The man worked at Brussels airport, said RTBF, citing judicial sources.