Two people were killed when Belgian police halted what local officials are calling “a second Paris,” a reference to last week’s terror attacks in the French capital.
The deaths occurred Thursday evening as anti-terror police carried out an anti-terror operation in the small city of Verviers, about 80 miles east of Brussels, officials confirmed in a Thursday evening press conference. Another person was seriously injured and has been detained.
The suspected terrorists are Arab-French, recently returned from Syria and are believed to have Islamic State ties, according to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
Multiple other searches were being carried out across the country, police said. Those were confirmed by newspaper La Libre to be taking place in both the capital Brussels and the city of Vanderlecht.
The Verviers terror cell was going to “imminently” carry out a massive terror attack, authorities said. It is believed they were planning to firebomb a police station before carrying out several other attacks.
The extremists opened fire on police as they closed in while serving a warrant, officials said.
“The suspects immediately and for several minutes opened fire with military weaponry and handguns on specials units of the federal police before they were neutralized,” said federal prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt.
Belgian network VTM reported the raid occurred near the central Verviers train station. Video from the scene shows a raging fire, dozens of gunshot can be heard over the sound of several p Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad quoted a local official who said the terror cell was tied to ISIS and that “a second Paris has been avoided,” but authorities at the press conference stopped short of making a similar claim — instead insisting the panic should remain calm and that everything was under control.
The country’s terror alert level has been raised to three (out of a possible four), but only in certain areas, officials also announced.
Witnesses told RTBF that three or four explosions were then followed by dozens of gun shots.
“I first heard an explosion and then gunshots,” another witness told RTBF, according to Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad. Another witness claimed the gunfire lasted for about 10 minutes.eople shouting.