Belgian police arrested three more people yesterday as investigations into the suicide bombings by Islamist militants threw up more links to killings in Paris last year.
The federal prosecutor’s office said the operation was connected to the arrest in Paris on Thursday of an Islamist convicted in Belgium last year and suspected of plotting a new attack.
Nine people in total have been arrested since Thursday in Belgium and two in Germany, as European authorities swoop on Islamic State militants they link both to the Brussels bombings that killed 31 people and to the attacks in Paris last November that killed 130.
Ahead of one of the arrests, heavily armed police and troops with trucks cordoned off an area around a major intersection in the northern Brussels borough of Schaerbeek.
Three blasts could be heard, which the local mayor Bernard Clerfayt said were controlled explosions.
Belgian public broadcaster RTBF quoted Mr Clerfayt as saying the suspect had been detained after being wounded and that he was linked to Tuesday’s suicide bombings.
It initially said he had been found to be in possession of a suitcase full of explosives. But later news reports did not confirm that explosives were found.
Witnesses said police appeared to shoot the man in the leg at a tram stop and that he appeared to have his daughter with him.
“We heard ‘Don’t move’. The man was sitting at the bus stop, a bus stop with a glass wall, and we heard a small detonation and a big detonation,” said Norman Kabir, 38, an electrician who lives and works nearby.
“Then the police came, took the little girl who was shouting ‘Dad’, she seemed terrified and the man got shot in the leg anyway because he was still moving,” Mr Kabir told reporters.
“Then the police asked him to move his bag. He was lying on the ground, but he did it and pushed the bag and a robot from the mine-sweeping brigade arrived. It came, grabbed the bag, and took it away, then they took the guy, put him in a car and left. It took 20 seconds.”
Video showed the man lying on his side, shattered glass from the tram shelter smashed by bullets at his feet.
IS suicide bombers hit Brussels airport and a metro train on Tuesday in the worst such assaults in Belgian history. Investigators believe they were carried out by the same cell behind November’s gun and bomb attacks in Paris.
The developments coincided with debate in Belgium and the Netherlands over the circumstances in which one of the suicide bombers had been deported from Turkey and returned to Belgium via Amsterdam last summer.
European and US political and military figures asserted that, despite the latest attacks on a European capital, IS is in decline. The reported death of senior IS figure Haji Imam was hailed by Britain’s foreign secretary Philip Hammond as bringing the defeat of the militant group “another step closer”.
US forces believe they killed the group’s finance minister this week as part of efforts to target the hierarchy of IS.
“We are systematically eliminating [IS’s] cabinet,” US defence secretary Ash Carter told a Pentagon press conference. “Indeed, the US military killed several key [IS] terrorists this week, including, we believe, Haji Imam who was an [IS] senior leader serving as a finance minister and who also was responsible for some external affairs and plots.”
He added: “Leaders can be replaced. However, these leaders have been around for a long time. They are senior, they are experienced.”
Mr Carter did not say whether the IS finance leader was killed in Syria or Iraq.