Two dead as Belgium acts against would-be terrorists

Police block a street in Vervier, eastern Belgium, following an anti terror operation.
Police block a street in Vervier, eastern Belgium, following an anti terror operation.

AT LEAST two people have been killed after Belgian police launched a major operation against a suspected jihadist terrorist cell a week after the attacks on Paris which left 20 people dead.

The raid in Verviers in eastern Belgium was targeted against a group of three young men who had recently returned from Syria, according to the Belgian authorities.

Two people were killed and one other was arrested in a shoot-out before 6pm local time during an anti-terrorist raid in Belgium, authorities said.

Belgian media reported another was seriously injured. It was not immediately clear if they were suspects.

Witnesses to the operation described a barrage of explosions and multiple gunshots as police entered a building close to the town's railway station. Sharpshooters were posted on rooftops surrounding the building.

There were also several arrests as part of the operation, which the authorities said had taken place at several locations across Belgium including the Brussels area.

Magistrate Eric Van der Sypt told an emergency press conference that the suspects were on the verge of committing a major terrorist attack, and that they immediately opened fire on security forces.

Belgium's terror alert level was raised to its second highest level, he added.

A police car arrives at police offices of Verviers, eastern Belgium
A police car arrives at police offices of Verviers, eastern Belgium

Officials said the police activity was "jihadist-related" and the three young men had been under surveillance after recently returning from Syria.

It was not known if the operation was linked to ongoing efforts by French police to track down potential accomplices to last week's attacks in Paris on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher grocery store, which claimed the lives of three terrorists and their 17 victims.

Prior to events in Verviers, the Belgian authorities had announced the arrest of a man in Charleroi, close to the French border, on suspicion of supplying ammunition to Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman responsible for shooting dead four Jews in the Hyper Cacher supermarket in Paris on Friday.

The man voluntarily surrendered himself to police, claiming he had conned Coulibaly in a deal to buy a car but denying any involvement in arms sales.

Belgium was targeted by jihadists last year when a gunman shot dead four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels in May last year. Mehdi Memmouche, 29, a Frenchman who had previously acted as a jailer to Western hostages for Isis in Syria, is awaiting trial for the murders.

The events in France's northern neighbour took place as President Francois Hollande vowed to protect Muslims in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders and Pope Francis intervened in the debate about the Paris attacks by saying there were limits to freedom of expression.

Topics:  charlie hebdo editors picks international islamic extremists terrorism

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