Islamic State flag found near the body of gunman named after Brussels shootout
An Isil flag, a Kalashnikov and a book on Salafism were found in the flat where a suspect was killed during shootout in Brussels on Tuesday, according to deputy Brussels prosecutor, Thierry Werts.
The dead man has been identified as Mohammed Belkaid, an Algerian unknown to security services and an illegal immigrant. He is only known to have committed a petty theft in 2014. He was killed by a special forces sniper after shooting at police from a window. Four police officers, three Belgian and one French, were injured in the shoot out.
Two suspects have been arrested – one after checking into hospital with a broken leg. Two other suspects are at large.
The flat was being raided as part of an investigation into the Paris terror attacks of November 13, in which 130 died. An automatic weapon was found by his side. Two suspects inside also had a pump action shotgun. They managed to escape during the shootout. Police found 11 Kalashnikov cartridges and “countless munitions”.
They continued their search and moved to a nearby area after finding two gun cartridges and dark clothing in the area. They found another Kalashnikov.
However, two other suspects reportedly managed to flee on the roof. Belgian special forces continued the manhunt throughout the night, with the search moving from rue de Dries to nearby avenue du Bempt, where a raid was conducted at dawn, according to RTBF. According to Dernière Heure, the suspects are thought to be Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui, known for gangster-related crimes.
Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister, said that the police operation was still underway.
Police in Brussels hunting terror suspects linked to last November’s ISIS massacre in Paris earlier detained two men after a dramatic raid on an apartment in which the Algerian accomplice was killed and four officers were wounded.
Paris and Brussels were at the heart of European anti-terror operations on Wednesday as secret agents swooped on four people thought to be planning an attack on the French capital while Belgium named an Algerian killed in a shootout on Tuesday.
In the Paris raid, three men and a woman were arrested in in the 18th arrondissement, home to Montmartre, and Seine-Saint-Denis, a northeastern suburb.
No weapons were found but electronic equipment was being analysed, French media reported. While police do not believe an attack was “imminent”, they believe a plot was underway.
One of the suspects, a 28-year old Frenchman, was on a security watchlist after trying to travel to Syria in 2014.
He had been under house arrest since November 13, when Paris suffered its deadliest-ever terror attack with 130 people killed by Isil gunmen at a concert hall and bars and restaurants. His wife was also among those arrested.
Many of the Paris killers were based in Brussels in neighboring Belgium, the scene of a shootout with terror suspects on Tuesday.
Six French and Belgian officers came under fire while searching a flat in the quiet southern suburb of Forest as part of a probe into the Paris attacks.
In ensuing clashes, a police sniper shot dead an Algerian illegal immigrant called Mohamed Belkaid.
An Isil flag, a book on Salafism and a Kalashnikov were by his side. Registered as having committed a petty theft in 2014, he was unknown to French and Belgian intelligence. Two suspects, thought to be armed, are still at large.
“As soon as the door to the flat was open, at least two people armed with a riot gun and a Kalashnikov immediately opened fire,” said Belgian deputy prosecutor Thierry Werts. Several bullets struck the officers’ bullet-proof vests, while one hit the handgun of a officer in its holster “at hip level”.
They were, he confessed, lucky to have “avoided the worst”.
Entering the flat, police found the dead man, a Kalashnikov, a black Isil flag and a book on Salafism. By Belkaïm’s side were also 11 cartridges and “very many munitions”.
According to Dernière Heure, the two suspects at large are thought to be Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui, respectively 26 and 30. Known for gangster-related crimes, the name of one has cropped up in anti-terror investigations, according to Le Monde.
After the standoff, police and special forces expanded their search and homed in on a neighbouring street, rue de l’Eau, after finding two gun cartridges and dark clothing in the area. During a raid on a house, they picked up another Kalashnikov.
Two suspects were arrested overnight – one after checking into hospital with a broken leg, another during a raid on a house near the gun fight. Both were later released without charge on Wednesday.
However, police released an identikit picture of the man who dropped off the patient with a broken leg as he fled when police arrived.
According to Le Monde, a further two suspects were arrested during a separate raid in the Flemish suburb of Leeuw-Saint-Pierre, though nothing is known of their identity.
Sources close to the inquiry told the French daily that the flat where the gunfight erupted was rented by Mohamed Bakkali.
He hit the headlines a few weeks ago when police found footage at his wife’s home suggesting he had been trailing a high-ranking Belgian nuclear physicist, raising fears of a plot to commit some kind of radioactive attack.
Bakkali is thought to have rented another flat in Schaerbeek where it is thought the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks were made.
Belgian authorities admitted to having been taken by surprise during Tuesday’s joint police raid of a flat. “They weren’t expecting what happened yesterday afternoon,” admitted Koen Geens, the Belgian justice minister. The flat was “cold” in that water and electricity had been cut suggesting it was not in use.
“We can say that we were very lucky,” said Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister. “Four of our agents were lightly wounded. It could have been a tragedy.”
The Belgian federal prosecutor confirmed that the probe was not directly linked to Salah Abdeslam, wanted in connection with the Paris attacks,and last seen in Brussels on November 15.
The raid had been conducted to check false identities linked to the “entourage of the 11 Belgians charged in relation to the Paris killings”.
Belgium has been stung by accusations that it was caught napping while droves of battle-hardened Islamists were planning attacks in neighboring France untroubled.
Yesterday, Belgian prosecutors pointed out that they had conducted 100 raids since November and arrested 58 people as a result. A further 23 arrests were made in connection to the Paris probe, said Mr Werts.
Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, told MPs on Wednesday that “several Kalashnikovs and hundreds of cartridges” had been found during the raids. He hailed “efficient” cooperation with Belgian police.
Given that the Paris attackers clearly benefited from a wide network of accomplices, anti-terror experts believe the cell likely comprising up to 25 people – some of whom are still at large.
Two surviving suspects escaped with a pump action shotgun, reportedly by climbing onto the roof of 60, rue de Dries.