In a frenzied day of raids and arrests, the Belgian state broadcaster reported a number of explosive blasts were heard during ongoing police operations in Brussels that have resulted in the capture of a number of suspects.
The initial blasts were heard in the suburb of Schaerbeek – the same district where police found explosives and an Islamic State flag in a flat reportedly used by the culprits of the terrorist attacks at a Brussels airport and metro station on 22 March.
In a series of three successful raids, police have now started to piece together the links between an Islamic State-affiliated cell that appears to have played a part in both the most recent attacks in Brussels and the atrocities that occurred in Paris last November.
In overnight raids between 24/25 March, police arrested a total of six people thought to have links to the Brussels attacks that claimed the lives of over 31 victims. Then, in a series of fresh raids on Friday (25 March), Belgian authorities picked up an additional three suspects from locations in the Forest, St Gilles and Schaerbeek districts of Brussels.
In at least one of these cases, the arrest was related to a recent police raid in France that resulted in the capture of a man named Reda Kriket, 34, who has been linked to the so-called 'ringleader' of the Paris attacks. Kriket is believed to have been involved in the recruitment of Islamic State-inspired jihadists.
As the investigation continues to heat up, Belgian prosecutors have confirmed that Najim Laachraoui, 24, who was one of the jihadis who blew himself up in the Brussels airport attack was also involved in the Paris attacks. Laachraoui was linked by DNA found on two of the explosive belts recovered from the French plot. As reported by the BBC, Laachraoui's DNA was linked to both a piece of cloth at the Bataclan concert venue in France and in a house in Brussels.
The bus shelter capture
According to the reports, one of the unnamed suspects caught on Friday (25 March) was "injured and shot" as police attempted to arrest him. The man, the report claimed, has now been arrested and suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. Indeed, video quickly emerged online that appeared to be taken from a mobile phone that showed the man in question being dragged from the scene by armed police.
Meanwhile, separate arrests in relation to the Brussels bombings have been made in Germany, according to German magazine Der Spiegel. The report said one of the men arrested received a number of mobile phone messages shortly before the terrorist attack that included the name Khalid El Bakraoui – one of the men Belgian police said blew himself up in the Brussels metro station.
"We will not be intimidated"
In response to the attacks US Secretary of State John Kerry vowed that the world "will not rest" in the fight against the Islamic State (Isis) after arriving in Brussels for counter-terrorism talks. "[The] United States is praying and grieving with you for the loved ones of those cruelly taken from us, including Americans, and for the many who were injured in these despicable attacks," he said after speaking with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
"We – all of us representing countless nationalities – have a message for those who inspired or carried out the attacks here or in Paris, or Ankara, or Tunis, or San Bernardino, or elsewhere: We will not be intimidated," he said. "We will not be deterred. We will come back with greater resolve, with greater strength and we will not rest until we have eliminated your nihilistic beliefs and cowardice from the face of the Earth."