BRUSSELS –– Belgian police killed a gunman after several officers were wounded today in a raid on a Brussels apartment linked to investigating November’s Islamist attacks in Paris, public broadcaster RTBF said.
Two other suspects were being sought, it added.
But after five hours of intense police activity in the area, security forces escorted children away from nearby schools and kindergartens, and began to allow residents back to homes in the suburban neighbourhood, Reuters journalists at the scene said.
Belgium’s federal prosecutor, leading the investigation, said one or more suspects barricaded themselves in an apartment after firing through a door at police who arrived to search it. Police said two officers were wounded then and another was hit later. Local media said four police were injured in total.
DH newspaper said one suspect was shot dead after being spotted from a police helicopter in a nearby garden.
France’s Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve said French police had taken part in the raid in the Belgian capital. Streets around the house in the city’s southern borough of Forest were sealed off by police.
“This operation is connected to the Paris attacks,” a spokesman for the federal prosecutor said.
Prime Minister Charles Michel met ministers and was expected to give a news conference later.
Reuters journalists heard gunshots as police commandos crowded into the street where the raid unfolded.
Investigators believe much of the planning and preparation for the November 13 bombing and shooting rampage in Paris that killed 130 people were carried out by young French and Belgian nationals, some of whom fought in Syria for Islamic State.
The attack strained relations between Brussels and Paris, with French officials suggesting Belgium was lax in monitoring the activities of hundreds of militants returned from Syria.
The area around today’s raid, near a car factory and a major north-south railway linking Paris and Amsterdam, was sealed off, and a police helicopter buzzed overhead.
Police told residents to stay indoors and children were kept inside schools and kindergartens for hours into the evening.
Belgian security forces have been actively hunting suspects and associates of the militants involved in the attacks in Paris. Some of the attackers came from Brussels.
One of the prime suspects, 26-year-old Brussels-based Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, is still on the run. He left Paris shortly after his brother blew himself up in the attacks. Belgian authorities are holding ten people who have been arrested in the months since the attacks, mostly for helping Abdeslam.
RTBF quoted French police sources as saying Abdeslam had not been the target of today’s raid.
Brussels, headquarters of the European Union as well as Western military alliance NATO, was locked down for days after the Paris attacks for fear of a major incident there. Brussels has maintained a high state of security alert since then, with military patrols a regular sight.
Soldiers were on streets in central Brussels today as the operation continued.
Belgium, with a Muslim population of about five per cent among its 11 million people, has the highest rate in Europe of citizens joining Islamist militants in Syria.