, BRUSSELS, Belgium, Mar 26 – Belgian police shot a suspect as part of a huge European terror crackdown that yielded several arrests Friday as France’s president said a jihadist network that targeted both Paris and Brussels was being “destroyed”.
Grieving Belgians held prayers in the rain in a central Brussels square carpeted with flowers and tributes to the 31 dead and 300 wounded in Tuesday’s carnage, but there was also growing anger at the government for letting a string of militants slip through the net.
The raids came as under-fire Belgian investigators uncovered alarming new evidence of a European jihadist cell tied to bombings at Brussels’ airport and metro, November’s Paris attacks and a new French plot.
“Even if the one that committed the attacks in Paris and Brussels is in the process of being destroyed… there is still a heavy threat,” French President Francois Hollande said.
The Belgian government has admitted “errors” and two ministers offered to resign after Turkey said Ibrahim El Bakraoui, who blew himself up in the airport attack, had been arrested and deported and that Belgium had ignored warnings that he was a “foreign terrorist fighter”.
Ibrahim and his brother Khalid, the suicide bomber in the metro attack, were also on a US counterterrorism watch list, CNN reported.
Ibrahim was on the list even before the November Paris attacks while Khalid was added soon after. Prosecutors have confirmed Khalid was the subject of an international warrant over the Paris attacks.
European authorities are under huge pressure to better coordinate the tracking of homegrown extremists and fighters returning from Syria, as evidence grows of a thriving jihadist network straddling France and Belgium.
A Belgian parliamentary commission on Friday heard from the ministers for justice, foreign affairs, and the interior on how Ibrahim El Bakraoui had managed to evade the Belgian authorities.
The ministers said the information from Ankara had been vague but acknowledged a Belgian police officer at the embassy in Turkey had “blundered”.