Belgian police arrested 16 people in a wave of anti-terrorism raids but key Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam slipped the net, with Brussels set to remain under security lockdown on Monday.
Schools and the metro will be shut as Brussels stays at the highest possible alert level over what Prime Minister Charles Michel called a “serious and imminent” threat of attacks similar to those that killed 130 people in France.
Police on Sunday carried out 19 raids in Brussels and three in the industrial town of Charleroi, detaining 16 people, prosecutors said, while the driver of a car was injured after police fired two shots when the vehicle drove at officers.
“Salah Abdeslam was not caught during the raids,” federal prosecutor spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt told a press conference just after midnight, meaning Europe’s most wanted man remains at large.
Abdeslam’s elder brother Brahim blew himself up outside a Paris bar in the November 13 attacks.
No arms or weapons were found in the raids, prosecutors added.
The Belgian news media reported Sunday that Abdeslam, a resident of the Brussels borough of Molenbeek whose brother was a suicide bomber in Paris, had been seen in the eastern city of Liege but then vanished again. Van der Sijpt declined to take questions on that or other aspects of the Belgian investigation into the links between the Paris attacks and Belgium.
He said several shots were fired by the police in Molenbeek late Sunday when, during a raid on a snack bar, a car drove toward officers. One person was wounded, he added.
Sunday’s raids and show of force in the center of Brussels escalated what had been mostly low-key precautions into a highly visible and often jittery military-style operation in a city usually associated with the somnolent activity of the European Union.
The operation, the biggest in the Belgian capital since the Paris attack, began shortly after a government meeting on the crisis and a decision to maintain f for a second day the highest possible alert level in Brussels.
“We fear an attack similar to the one in Paris,” Prime Minister Charles Michel said Sunday at a news conference. “A number of individuals could launch an attack on several locations in Brussels simultaneously.” He spoke amid a growing mood of crisis as the authorities extended the hunt for Abdeslam, believed to be the only known survivor from three terrorist squads that attacked Paris, and for a widening number of suspects in Belgium linked to it.
Police officers and soldiers in camouflage blocked roads around the central headquarters of the Brussels police, near the Grand Place, and around the offices of the federal police.
Michel did not elaborate on what information the government had received of a possible assault, saying only that it had “indications that the targets of such an attack will be areas that attract large crowds like commercial centers.”