Terror suspect with salt & cookies-filled vest arrested in Brussels
A terror suspect sparked a false bomb alert in Brussels after strapping a device full of ‘salt and cookies’ around his waist.
Police descended on the City2 Shopping Mall in the heart of the Belgian capital and taped off surrounding roads while five underground stations were also been closed.
A suspect was detained at the scene and armed police called in amid reports he told officers he was wearing a bomb vest. But Belgian authorities now say the man was not carrying explosives.
The incident comes a week after anti-terrorism investigators were alerted to the possibility that small groups of ISIS extremists had left Syria for France and Belgium with plans to stage attacks – including at a shopping mall.
A Brussels police spokesman said: ‘The man was arrested, but it turned out that his suicide belt was fake. It contained salt and cookies.’
The incident began after a report of a man acting suspiciously near the shopping centre triggered a bomb alert.
Belgium’s crisis centre, which coordinates security measures, said it was holding a meeting while while Prime Minister Charles Michel has called the incident ‘very suspicious’.
Ine Van Wymersch, spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutors’ office later said the suspect ‘is being questioned at the moment’, adding: ‘There were no explosives.’
The incident comes only days after Belgian authorities charged three men with ‘attempted terrorist murder’ after raiding dozens of homes linked to a reported threat to fans during a Euro 2016 football game.
Belgium has been on high alert since November in the wake of the massacres in Paris that killed 130 people, with extra police and military mobilised.
And the country is still reeling from attacks on March 22, when ISIS bombers targeted Brussels airport and subway, killing 32 people.
Today’s operation comes a week after police and anti-terrorism investigators were alerted to the possibility that small groups of ISIS extremists have left Syria for France and Belgium with plans to stage attacks.
Belgian intelligence services sent a note to French counterparts about the warning was then sent to police across France, a French security official said.
Belgium’s Derniere Heure tabloid reported that Belgium’s anti-terror office warned police that fighters with access to weapons may have left Syria about 10 days ago for Belgium and France.
The paper, which said it had obtained an alert message, said fighters travelling without passports were believed to be trying to reach Europe by boat via Turkey and Greece.
A Brussels shopping mall, an American fast-food chain and police could be among their targets, it emerged.
On Saturday, authorities charged three men with terror-related crimes after raids and the detention of 40 people in a major investigation. Authorities said the probe required ‘immediate intervention’ because they feared a new attack was close.
Among those arrested were relatives of the El-Bakraoui brothers, who were among the suicide bombers in March.