Three charged after counter-terror raids in Belgium

Police search a man's backpack at a station in Antwerp, 18 June Image copyright AP
Image caption Police were searching bags near Antwerp railway station on Saturday after a bomb scare

Belgian authorities have charged three men with terrorism offences, including attempting to commit murder, following a huge overnight operation.

Nine other people who had also been arrested have been released by the investigating judge, the federal prosecutor's office said.

Searches were conducted overnight in 16 municipalities, mainly around Brussels, with checks on 152 lock-up garages.

PM Charles Michel said security would be stepped up at public events.

He tweeted (in French) after a meeting of the Belgian security council to say events would go ahead as planned, urging the public to remain calm.

Belgian media had earlier reported that militant Islamists may have been planning to attack the football fan zone in Brussels, where Belgium's games in the Euro 2016 tournament in France are screened.

On 22 March, bombs killed 32 people at a Brussels airport and a metro station.

The three men charged on Saturday were named as Samir C, aged 27; Moustapha B, 40; and Jawad B, 29.

The charges they face include attempting to commit murder through terrorism and participating in a terrorist group.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A dog was used during Friday's reconstruction of the Brussels attacks

No arms or explosives were found during the searches, which passed off without incident, the federal prosecutor said in an earlier statement.

Forty people were initially taken in for questioning.

Among the areas where searches took place was Molenbeek, a Brussels district which has become notorious because of its associations with jihadists.

Officials said the operation had been launched after investigations which "necessitated an immediate intervention".

The country is under a level three terror alert, one below maximum.

There were several warnings of further attacks in recent days.

On Friday evening, four federal ministers including Mr Michel were placed under heightened police protection along with their families, Belgian media report.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Soldiers guarded the the prime minister's office as the national security council met in Brussels

Belgian police are said to have recently received a warning that a group of militants from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group had left Syria en route for Europe, planning new attacks in Belgium and France.

An unnamed security source was quoted by Belgian newspaper DH (in French) on Wednesday as saying the group had "left Syria about a week-and-a-half ago aiming to reach Europe via Turkey and Greece by boat without passports".

Meanwhile, a Belgian national named as Youssef EA was arrested on Friday and charged on suspicion of terrorist activities in connection with the March attacks, which were claimed by IS.

Belgian media report that he is the eighth person to have been charged over the attacks, which were carried out by three suicide bombers.

Investigators have established connections between the Brussels bombers and the IS attacks on Paris on 13 November, in which 130 people were killed.

Several of the Paris bombers came from Belgium and some of the bombs were made in a flat in Brussels.

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