TERROR ATTACKS: Brussels lockdown continues as police hunt for two terrorists

Shopping centres and public transport were the most likely targets of terrorists planning attacks on Brussels, Belgium’s prime minister Charles Michel said as he announced the city’s lockdown would remain in force today.

TERROR ATTACKS: Brussels lockdown continues as police hunt for two terrorists

Schools, universities, the metro, sports grounds, concert venues, discos, shops, bars, and restaurants, especially those in the main tourist areas, should remain shut, he said.

Shortly before 7pm Irish time police and military began an operation near the Grand Place, on Rue du Midi, telling guests to stay in their hotels and residents to close their windows, while diners in at least one restaurant were evacuated.

Security forces are searching for two men in particular, whom they believe are in the Brussels region, according to Bernard Clerfayt, the mayor of Schaerbeek, a largely Muslim commune in the city.

“There are two terrorists on the ground in the Brussels region, who are capable of highly dangerous acts. We now have to anticipate, prevent, monitor”, he told RTBF radio yesterday, saying he and other regional politicians had been informed by the prime minister.

One of the men is believed to be Salah Abdeslam, who was in Paris last weekend and whose brother was one of the suicide bombers in the attacks. The family lived in the Brussels commune of Molenbeek and in a TV interview their older brother appealed to him to give himself up.

Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon said several suspects related to the Paris attacks could still be in Belgium, while some reports said the intelligence service has a list of more than a dozen suspects they want to apprehend.

The decision to continue the lockdown for a third day was taken following a meeting of the national security council, attended by government ministers and security and intelligence agencies.

At a press conference in Brussels last night Mr Michel said the threat had not receded and the targets remained the same as at the weekend, so the measures would stay in place, with extra police and military on the streets, and schools, universities and the metro closed.

“Various investigations are ongoing. We fear an attack similar to that in Paris,” he said, adding that the threat remained serious and imminent in the capital.

“We are aware that the situation is difficult for everybody. We want to thank the security forces and the people on the ground, and we also want to thank the public for remaining calm. We will do all we can to get life back to normal as quickly as possible,” he said.

The alert level stayed atthree — the second-highest — for the rest of Belgium, and the prime ministers of the country’s four federal governments (Flanders, Walloon, German, and Brussels) were present at the national security council.

The authorities said there was no specific threat to the EU institutions in the city. They have all been on alert since the Paris attack, with a limited number of entry places open and with military on standby outside.

Meetings of eurozone finance ministers and of health and youth ministers are due to go ahead today, with Michael Noonan and James Reilly due to attend.

Two special trains carrying MEPs and European Parliament staff to their monthly session in Strasbourg are due to travel today as normal, although security has been tightened. Passengers travelling to Paris on the Thalys and London on the Eurostar have been asked to arrive early.

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