Brussels Remains on Lockdown Over Terror Threat

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Journalist interviews a man as a soldier patrols a pedestrian shopping street in Brussels on November 21, 2015.
Journalist interviews a man as a soldier patrols a pedestrian shopping street in Brussels on November 21, 2015. Credit: AFP

BRUSSELS - The lockdown in Brussels, as local media called it, continued Sunday, with most of the activity in the Belgian capital still on hold amid a terror threat. Most of the city's public transportation was still shuttered and, according to an official government statement, will remain so at least until 3 P.M. when officials would review whether to keep the city on maximum alert.

Prime Minister Charles Michel has advised the public to be alert rather than panic-stricken, but noted the alert level was raised Saturday due to the "serious and imminent" threat of Paris-style coordinated attacks.

Person walks by blocked entrance of a metro station in Brussels on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015.Credit: AP

According to various media reports, a search was underway on Sunday for up to 10 terrorists, reportedly armed and equipped with explosives, who are either already in the city or making their way there to carry out attacks.

Interior Minister Jan Jambon emphasized Saturday that the issued warnings and the declaration of the highest state of alert are not only related to the search after Salah Abdeslam, the so-call eighth terrorist from the Paris attacks that returned to Brussels afterwards.

The warnings were also based on intelligence reports that were corroborated with interrogation materials extracted from suspects held last week following the Paris attacks, and which led investigators to the conclusion that dormant jihadi cells received the greenlight to act.

Belgium's crisis center, a body that advises the government on security measures, said on Sunday the alert status remained at four, the highest level, for Brussels, with the rest of the country on three, meaning a possible and probable threat. 

Soldiers patrol a pedestrian shopping street in Brussels on November 21, 2015.Credit: AFP

The national security council, including top ministers, was expected to convene on Sunday afternoon to determine what measures to take or retain.

Belgium has advised the public to avoid crowds in the capital, and closed the metro system, museums, cinemas and shopping center. Clubs and venues have cancelled events.

That said, Brussels on Sunday morning resembled most other Sundays, with the normal limited number of shops, such bakeries and small supermarkets open, and many churches in the largely Catholic country still holding services. 

However, larger markets were shut.

Belgium has been at the heart of investigations into the Paris attacks after links to Brussels, and the poor district of Molenbeek in particular, emerged. 
Two of the Paris suicide bombers, Brahim Abdeslam and Bilal Hadfi, had been living in Belgium. Fugitive suspected militant Salah Abdeslam, Brahim's 26 year-old brother, slipped back home to Brussels from Paris shortly after the attacks. 

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