For Third Day, Brussels Is Paralyzed by Terror Dragnet

Security forces stood guard on Rue des Bouchers, a street well-known for its restaurants, on Monday in Brussels.

November 23, 2015

BRUSSELS — On what typically would be a bustling Monday, empty streets and an eerie silence attested to the reality that this capital city, the heart of the European Union, had been paralyzed by a terrorist cell answering to the leaders of the Islamic State.

As universities, shopping malls, museums, meals markets, the subway program and even a nursery school shut their doors, the city remained jittery soon after a number of false alarms involving hotels and even City Hall, which was closed on Monday.

The central square, recognized as the Grand Place or Grote Markt, was all but deserted, except for a handful of tourists ambling around a giant Christmas tree. Soldiers patrolled an region usually thronged with shoppers, and armored personnel carriers rolled more than cobblestone streets typically choked with automobiles.

The level of anxiety was so higher that the authorities felt compelled to remind folks that they were totally free to leave their houses, even in Brussels, although they still were recommending that they “avoid unnecessary travel to busy places and comply with any potential security verify.”

“It’s a really strange atmosphere,” mentioned Guy Egerickx, 60, a retiree, who had come out to shop. “It’s anything that I’ve never skilled just before.”

The subways and schools are scheduled to reopen on Wednesday, Prime Minister Charles Michel stated in a news conference, but in other respects, “the circumstance remains the very same as yesterday.” Of the investigation he said only that the police “are operating tough,” and he called on the public to “remain vigilant.”

For many people, it was one point to be locked down on a weekend, but very yet another on a weekday when jobs and chores had been supposed to be accomplished. “We feel as if we’re taken hostage by the security situation simply because we’ve had to change our habits, due to the fact everything’s closed,” stated Deborah Mix, who manages a Bruyerre chocolate shop. “I cannot go do my buying. I want to be careful when I leave the house. At the very same time I feel like the security measures are adding to this climate of fear.”

The greatest fear for Charlie Attar, who runs a shop specializing in winter garments, was not so considerably a terrorist attack as a lockdown that extends into the Christmas purchasing season. “Usually I get a lot of vacationers from Switzerland, the Netherlands, from Scandinavian countries,” he said, puffing nervously on a cigarette. “It’s going to be a catacomb. I need to spend rent. It is going to get a lot far more hard.”

He added, “We’re going to have to begin obtaining used to the thought of living with the army.”

In the third day of higher alert, the authorities continued their manhunt for Salah Abdeslam, a participant in the Paris terrorist attacks, browsing five properties in the Brussels region and two in the Liège region overnight. Even though the suspect remained at huge, the police seized 26,000 euros, or about $ 27,600, and arrested five people, in addition to the 16 who had been detained on Sunday.

Later Monday, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that a judge had placed in custody one of the 16 on charges of participating in the terrorist attack in Paris and had released the other individuals. Two of the five arrested this morning have been released, the prosecutor mentioned, although the judge will decide on the others tomorrow.

The lawyer for one particular of the 21 people arrested considering that Sunday stated that they have been buddies and relatives of Mr. Abdeslam, and that police had been seeking to question them on their conversations with him prior to the Paris attacks.

Michel Vankeerberghen, an official with the Tourism Bureau for Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, stated the city was “playing a waiting game,” a single that tested the nerves. “On a psychological level, it’s really challenging,” Mr. Vankeerberghen said.

The annual Brussels Christmas industry was scheduled to open on Friday, he said, but it was unclear whether the safety lockdown would enable that to happen. For now, the stalls that appear like little gingerbread houses are all shuttered.

The market usually attracts 1.5 million guests, 300,000 of them tourists, stated Olivier Mees, who organizes the occasion. Workers were putting up massive decorations for the Christmas marketplace on the Boulevard Anspach, in front of the city’s old stock exchange, as soldiers in camouflage looked on.

“We’re generating preparations, even if we don’t know the market will go on,” mentioned a disgruntled worker, half his face covered to shield from the biting cold.

A soldier nearby, who overheard the conversation, quipped, “We don’t even know if we’ll be here tomorrow.”

Abdel Messaoudi, who manages a Pizza Hut, stated that revenues had fallen at least 75 % since Saturday, when the authorities place the Brussels region on the highest level of alert.

“I’ve in no way, ever seen Brussels this quiet,” mentioned Mr. Messaoudi, who told his staff not to bother to come to function on Monday since the subway was not operating. Typically this component of the city is teeming with vacationers and workers, he mentioned, but the size of crowds has shrunk by at least two-thirds.

The authorities urged citizens not to discuss police operations on Twitter for worry of tipping off the suspects they were looking for. Many Belgians complied by posting pictures of cats with the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown.

The chief target of the police raids — Mr. Abdeslam, a 26-year-old Frenchman who is believed to have taken component in the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 — remained at large. A BMW that was pulled over on Sunday evening about Liège, which was seized upon by some on the World wide web, has “no hyperlink at all with the ongoing operation,” according to Eric Van der Sijpt, a magistrate and a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office.

At least four of the attackers in Paris had lived in Belgium, which includes Mr. Abdeslam and the suspected ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was killed in a police raid outdoors Paris final week.

In France, exactly where the threat level has abated somewhat in recent days, the well being minister stated that 169 folks had been still hospitalized from the attacks, like 34 in intensive care.

The country’s finance minister, Michel Sapin, said that France would tighten rules for the use of prepaid bank cards, which can be utilized anonymously under particular thresholds and had been utilized by the attackers who killed 130 men and women in Paris and neighboring St.-Denis on the evening of Nov. 13.

Mr. Sapin also said that the French authorities combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism would be provided direct access to the police database of wanted or suspected men and women. He added that the government would introduce legislation to expand the authorities’ potential to freeze the monetary assets of terrorism suspects to incorporate autos and true estate.

For Belgians living with the continual threat and uncertainty, the police presence was reassuring, even for Mukando Fortuna, a young black man, who says he is generally wary of the authorities.

“I’m typically stopped and searched by the police, which genuinely irritates me,” he said, wearing hip sunglasses and chatting with a group of pals. “But this time, they haven’t. They’re cool,” he said. “We’re not scared because of a group of idiots.”

Not every person was succumbing to the climate of worry. Philippe Bornauw, who runs the oldest cigar shop in Brussels, just off the Grand Place, named La Tête d’Or, acknowledged the drop-off in sales but mentioned he was defiant.

“We can’t let us ourselves be taken over by this psychosis,” he stated. “I’m going to smoke a cigar and drink Belgian beer, yes, that is what I’m going to do correct this second,” he stated, taking out a cigar and lighting it.

He brought out cheese and poured himself and a pal dark Belgian beer in two silver tumblers as Frank Sinatra played in the background. “A cigar, jazz and beer, what else?” He chuckled, “Us, we blow ourselves up a cigar.”

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