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Far-Right Protesters Giving Nazi Salutes Hijacked a Memorial for the Brussels Attacks

Hundreds of demonstrators clad in black clashed with riot police at an event intended to commemorate the victims of the recent bombings in Belgium.

by Tess Owen
Mar 27 2016, 6:40pm

Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Several hundred right-wing protesters hijacked a memorial event on Sunday for victims of the recent terror attacks in Brussels by chanting xenophobic slogans, making Nazi salutes, and accosting Muslim women in the crowd.

Belgian riot police clashed with members of the far-right group, many of whom were clad in black with masks and hoods. Police used water cannons to disperse the unruly mob, which Belgian broadcaster RTBF estimated at 500-1,000-strong. At least 10 people were arrested.

Sunday's event, held in Brussels' Place de la Bourse, was originally intended for people to lay flowers, light candles, and remember the 28 people who were killed in bombings on March 22 at the Brussels airport and on a metro train in the city center. Hundreds of others were injured in the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State.

RTBF reported that the right-wing group "commandeered" the vigil, trampled on flowers that had been laid down, and shouted "It's because of you," a chant that blamed the attacks on the influx of refugees to Belgium and other countries in Europe. One banner carried by the protesters read "United against Islamic State."

Prime Minister Charles Michel condemned the protesters. "It is highly inappropriate that protesters have disrupted the peaceful at the Bourse [stock exchange]," Michel said, according to Belga News Agency.

Related: Security Guard's Murder Fuels Fears That Nuclear Plants in Belgium Could Be Attacked

Yvan Mayeur, the mayor of Brussels, said he was was "appalled" that "such scoundrels have come to provoke residents at the site of their memorial." He said many of the protesters were outsiders who came from Antwerp and cities other than the Belgian capital.

The prominence and popularity of far-right groups in Belgium and Europe has surged in the wake of the terror attacks last November in Paris. Many of the groups have peddled the narrative that militants are posing as asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq, and other war-torn countries in the Middle East. However, while several suspects in the Paris and Brussels attacks were known to have traveled to Syria, all of the perpetrators identified thus far have either been French or Belgian nationals. A Syrian passport was also found near one of the Paris suicide bombers, but authorities suspect it was either stolen or forged.

Related: There's No Easy Way to Combat Radicalization in Belgium

Brussels residents had originally planned a "March Against Fear" for Sunday, but it was cancelled on Saturday at the request of Belgium's interior minister, who said police and other security forces were already stretched thin after the attacks on Tuesday. "We understand fully the emotions," Interior Minister Jan Jambon told reporters on Saturday. "We understand that everyone wants to express these feelings."

Belgian police, meanwhile, carried out 13 more raids on Sunday and took more people into custody for questioning as part of the ongoing investigation.

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen

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