Widening a European counter-terrorism dragnet, Greek authorities detained four terrorism suspects today, including a man believed to be the ringleader of a Belgian jihadi cell.
A Greek police official said the four were arrested separately in Athens and included a man who matches the description of Abdelhamid Abaaoud – whom Belgian authorities suspect was behind a jihadi cell which was dismantled in Belgium on Thursday.
Authorities in Belgium were going over photos, fingerprints and DNA material sent by Greek police to try to verify whether the person was Abaaoud, said Greek and Belgian officials.
Greek officials initially thought Abaaoud was in Turkey, but the detained man’s name, as well as the mobile phone found on him matches descriptions that Greek police received from Belgium, the Greek official said.
The announcement came amid a groundswell of popular antagonism across Europe against radical Islam, stepped-up police efforts to prevent terrorism, and protests against caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed across the Muslim world that have underscored vast cultural differences.
Belgium has raised its terror warning to 3, the second-highest, following anti-terror raids there on Thursday which left two suspects dead and a third wounded amid fears they had been planning imminent attacks on police and their offices.
The country deployed 150 paratroopers today to guard possible terrorism targets, including some buildings in Antwerp’s Jewish quarter. It was the first time in 30 years that authorities had used troops to reinforce police, and they said the number of troops could double until a review of situation next week.
Meanwhile in France, authorities sought to head off possible civil unrest and glorification of terrorism after the country’s worst attacks in decades - assenting to quietly bury the two brothers involved in the attack against the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and banning an anti-Islamist demonstration in Paris.
“We are one country, one people, one France – without distinction by religion, belief or sensibility,” President Francois Hollande said in a speech in south-central France. “An ardent France against those who want to instil among us who knows what war of religion.”
Authorities have said there is no apparent link between the foiled plots in Belgium and last week’s terror attacks against Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, in which brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi and their friend Amedy Coulibaly killed 17 people.