Brussels was effectively on terror lockdown Saturday after “precise” warnings of a Paris-style bomb and gun attack forced the closure of the subway system and citizens were warned to avoid public spaces.
The move came week after the Paris attacks carried out by Islamic State militant and after local authorities moved Saturday morning to shut down the metro and warned the public to avoid crowds because of a “serious and imminent” threat of an attack.
As the manhunt continued for at least one suspect from last week’s massacre in France, the Belgian government raised the capital’s terrorism alert level to its highest status. Something that Belgian’s are not at all used to seeing in their country.
Heavily-armed police and soldiers were deployed across the city and all soccer games were canceled.
The country’s crisis center urged people in Brussels to avoid concerts, airports, public transportation and crowded shopping centers.
Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said the alert was “based on quite precise information about the risk of an attack like the one that happened in Paris where several individuals with arms and explosives launch actions, perhaps even in several places at the same time.”
At least one Paris attacker, Salah Abdeslam, crossed into Belgium the morning after the attacks but his whereabouts are unknown. “We urge the public not to give in to panic, to stay calm,” Michel said. “We have taken the measures that are necessary.”
The advice for the population is to avoid places where a lot of people come together like shopping centers, concerts, events or public transport stations wherever possible,” a spokesman for the government’s crisis center said.
He declined to say what specifically prompted the new alert.
A statement on the center’s website said it had recommended closing the underground rail network until Sunday and the municipal transport authority tweeted that stations on the four main metro lines were closed “by order of the police”.
Meanwhile, Belgian police were reportedly carrying a fresh raid in Molenbeek, a neighborhood some have a labeled a terrorist hotbed. According to a report in La Capital, several weapons were discovered during the search of the home of one of three people arrested in Belgium in connection with the Paris attacks.