Belgian counter-terrorism unit warns of ‘imminent attack’

Published June 15th, 2016 - 03:54 GMT
Belgian police. (AFP/File)
Belgian police. (AFP/File)

Police in Belgium and France were warned Wednesday of imminent attacks by Daesh-affiliated militants traveling from Syria, a Brussels newspaper said, citing a Belgian counter-terrorism unit.

The message from the federal counter-terrorism agency Ocam, sent to local police and published in Brussels' French-language newspaper Derniere Heure, read in part: "Combatants are thought to have left Syria around a week and a half ago to reach Europe via Turkey and Greece by boat without passports. These people are thought to have split into two groups -- one for Belgium, the other for France, in order to commit terror attacks in groups of two. According to information collected, these people are thought to already be in possession of the necessary weaponry and their attack is imminent."

The newspaper also said Mohamed Abrini, arrested after the March attacks on Brussels' airport and a train station in which 32 people died, attempted to smuggle a note from his jail cell. The note, intercepted within the jail, read, "Something is moving in France."

The warning of possible impending large-scale attacks came the day after a French police commander and his partner, also a police employee, were stabbed to death in their home near Paris. The assailant, Larossi Abballa, was killed by police, but not before he posted a 12-minute rant on Facebook Live, promising "other surprises for the Euro" and calling on followers to "turn the Euro into a graveyard," a reference to the Euro 2016 European soccer tournament now taking place in cities across France.

The message from the Belgian counter-terrorism unit makes no reference to French soccer stadiums, but its information on potential Belgian targets is more precise, the newspaper said. It mentions a Brussels shopping center, an American fast food restaurant and "a police target, such as a police station."

Paul Van Tigchelt, of Ocam, downplayed the information, noting similar information was obtained in April, with no verification or attacks. Belgium's alert level remains at Level Three, indicating a "serious" possibility of attack. The maximum level, Level Four, indicates a "serious and imminent risk."

"Ocam receives all sorts of information. This is raw intelligence. Our mission, in relation with our partners, is to put it into context, to analyze it and verify how reliable it is," Van Tigchelt said.

By Ed Adamczyk

Editor's Note: This article has been edited from the original.

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