Belgian Police Arrest 10 in Investigation of ISIS Network

The New York Times/February 16, 2016

By Milan Schreuer

Paris — The Belgian police raided nine homes and arrested 10 people in Brussels as part of an investigation into an Islamic State recruitment network, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.

The arrests were made in the Brussels neighborhoods of Etterbeek, Koekelberg, Molenbeek and Schaerbeek. Molenbeek was a base for several men involved in the Paris terrorist attacks of Nov. 13 that killed 130 people, and dozens have been arrested in Molenbeek over the past three months as the authorities continue their investigation into that assault, the deadliest in Western Europe since 2004.

But the spokesman, Thierry Werts, said the recruitment network targeted in the new raids was not directly connected with the Paris attacks.

“The majority of the persons arrested are suspected of having sent people to Syria,” Mr. Werts said in a telephone interview. “Some of them have gone to Syria themselves to fight under ISIS and have returned,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL.

During the raids, cellphones, computers and other hardware were seized for examination, but no weapons or explosives were found, he said.

Molenbeek has become the focus of intense scrutiny since the Belgian government, which had been faulted for failing to prevent terrorism, announced an ambitious antiterrorism plan this month and assigned hundreds of additional police officers to monitor neighborhoods with large immigrant populations and to crack down on radical activity and the illegal trafficking of arms, drugs and people.

The investigation is being carried out by a judge from the city of Liège who specializes in terrorism. The judge, who was not named, is to decide whether the suspects will be charged, held in preventive detention or released. The authorities did not identify the 10 people who were arrested.

One of the attackers in the 2004 train bombing in Madrid lived in Molenbeek, as did a man accused of shooting four people dead at Brussels’ Jewish Museum in May 2014. In January 2015, the Belgian police killed two men from the neighborhood who they suspected were plotting to assassinate police officers in the town of Verviers. The gunman who tried to kill passengers on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris in August 2015 also lived in Molenbeek.

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