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Two Dead in Belgium Anti-terror Raid


Belgium on Heightened Alert After Anti-Terror Raid
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Watch video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke.

Belgian police have stopped what they call an "imminent" terrorist attack, killing two heavily armed suspects and arresting one.

The two were killed in a counterterrorism operation Thursday, in the eastern Belgium town of Verviers. The plot raises concerns about security in Europe a week after Islamist militants killed 17 people in Paris.

At a news briefing, a representative for the national prosecutor's office said police raided a terrorist cell intent on conducting "major and imminent" attacks in Belgium. Some of the cell's members had returned from Syria. One person was detained in the raid, he said.

He made no mention of possible links to last week's terrorist attacks in France.

Verviers, Belgium
Verviers, Belgium

Belgium's public television station RTBF reported that one person was "gravely wounded" in the raid.

Earlier Thursday, Belgian authorities said they had detained a man they suspected of supplying weapons to Amedy Coulibaly, who prosecutors say killed a police officer and four people in a Paris kosher supermarket last week.

RTBF said police raids were also under way in Brussels. Belga news agency said police were hunting a man who witnesses said had brandished a weapon and shouted religious slogans in Arabic at a Brussels metro station.

In a report that could not be immediately confirmed, the website of La Meuse newspaper quoted an unidentified police officer as saying: "We've averted a Belgian Charlie Hebdo."

Two French brothers, who like Coulibaly claimed allegiance to Islamist militants in the Middle East, killed 12 people January 7 at the Paris offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Trial's verdict postponed

Meanwhile, a verdict in the trial of more than 40 members of an outlawed Belgian-based group accused of recruiting young men for jihad has been postponed for a month. The verdict had been expected this week.

The trial, against members of Sharia4Belgium, began in October in Antwerp. It's one of Europe's largest such efforts to prosecute extremists who recruit potential terrorists.

Belgium has seen significant radical activity among its Muslim population. Per capita, Belgium has Europe's highest number of citizens or residents who've fought alongside Syrian rebels in the past four years. The Washington-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization estimates nearly 300 citizens have traveled to fight in Syria from late 2011 to December 2013, Reuters reported.

"We have seen Belgium at the center of things for quite some time," the center's Matthew Levitt told Reuters.

The country's jobless rate reaches up to 50 percent among people ages 18 to 25 living in Brussels' commune of Molenbeek, the news agency reported. It said many young people in poor areas feel marginalized, especially those whose parents emigrated from North Africa two decades ago and found good jobs in car manufacturing. Such opportunities faded when the plants closed.

Some material for this story came from Reuters.

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