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Police raids in Brussels linked to suicide bombings

The latest developments in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks


 
Hundreds of people come together at Place de la Bourse to mourn on Wednesday evening, March 23, 2016. Bombs exploded yesterday at the Brussels airport and one of the city's metro stations, killing and wounding scores of people, as a European capital was again locked down amid heightened security threats. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Hundreds of people come together at Place de la Bourse to mourn on Wednesday evening, March 23, 2016. Bombs exploded yesterday at the Brussels airport and one of the city’s metro stations, killing and wounding scores of people, as a European capital was again locked down amid heightened security threats. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Police in Brussels are in the midst of a large raid, which they say is linked to Tuesday’s suicide bombings, which killed 31 people and injured dozens more. Here’s the latest (all times are local):

5:20 p.m.

Police in a German city on the Belgian border say a German woman who lived there was among the people killed in the Brussels airport bombing.

Police in Aachen said earlier this week that a couple from the city was caught up in the bombings, with the husband seriously wounded and the wife missing.

On Friday, they said in a statement citing Belgian police that the woman has now been identified as among the dead. They gave no further details, citing the need to respect relatives’ privacy.

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5:05 p.m.

A resident of one Brussels street cordoned-off in the police raid in the Schaerbeek district says she’s still unable to leave her residence.

Veterinarian Marie-Pierre Bouvez told The Associated Press that the heavily armed officers wearing hoods who were involved in Friday’s raids left around 3:30 p.m. after launching an operation about two hours earlier that started with “two big explosions.”

Bouvez says other police still have the area locked down, and shouted at her to “get back inside” when she tried to go into the street. She says there’s much confusion and residents have not been told what’s happening.

Belgian prosecutors say three people have been detained in counterterrorism raids Friday in Brussels. Two of the three detained were shot in the leg, prosecutors say, including one person in Schaerbeek.

 

4:10 p.m.

Belgian prosecutors say three people have been detained in counterterrorism raids in Brussels prompted by the arrest of a Frenchman in the Paris area suspected of plotting a new attack.

The federal prosecutor’s office says the three were arrested Friday in three different districts of the Belgian capital — Schaerbeek, Forest and Saint-Gilles.

These arrests are believed linked to the arrest of Reda Kriket in France on Thursday. Kriket was convicted in absentia of terrorist activities last year along with the suspected ringleader of the deadly Nov. 13 attacks on Paris.

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4 p.m.

German prosecutors say they’re investigating whether a Moroccan man detained in central Germany has any connection to the Brussels attacks.

Prosecutors in Giessen said Friday the 28-year-old, whom they didn’t identify, was picked up early Thursday because he didn’t have valid ID. They said they found documents indicating that he had been in the Brussels area recently and seized a cellphone that they are now evaluating.

They say officials established that he had previously entered Germany under various aliases and sought asylum, and that he is known to police in Italy. Authorities have opened a criminal case over suspected residency law violations and the man remains in custody.

Der Spiegel magazine and two public broadcasters are saying the man received two suspicious text messages on the day of the Brussels attacks.

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3:45 p.m.

Belgian state broadcaster RTBF says a large police raid in Brussels is over and one person carrying a bag of explosives material has been wounded and arrested.

A resident of the cordoned-off street in the city’s Schaerbeek district, veterinary surgeon Marie-Pierre Bouvez, told The Associated Press the area remains blocked off but heavily armed officers involved in the Friday operation have gone. Police still shouted at her to stay in her office, however.

AP reporters at the scene can see explosives robots and experts still combing the area.

RTBF quoted Schaerbeek district mayor Bernard Clerfayt as saying the arrested person has been linked to the attacks in Brussels this week and an arrest in France.

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3:20 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized Belgian authorities as incompetent for not taking action against a Brussels attacker who Turkey had deported back to Europe after detaining him at the border with Syria.

Turkish authorities say Ibrahim El Bakraoui, one of the suicide bombers at Brussels Airport, was caught in June in Turkey’s border province of Gaziantep and deported at his own request to the Netherlands.

They say Dutch and Belgian authorities took no action against him despite Turkish warnings that he was a “foreign terrorist fighter.”

Erodgan says in a speech in the central Turkish town of Sorgun: “We caught him at Gaziantep, we deported and sent him. Those gentlemen did not take the necessary steps against the terrorist and released him … go and explain this!”

3:05 p.m.

The mayor of a Brussels district says a large police raid now underway is linked to the investigation into this week’s Brussels suicide bombings and a new arrest in the Paris area.

State broadcaster RTBF quoted mayor Bernard Clerfayt as saying one person has been “neutralized” in the operation Friday in his Schaerbeek district. He did not say whether that meant the person was arrested or wounded.

Clerfayt says the raid is linked to Tuesday’s attacks on the Brussels airport and subway and to the arrest of a man Thursday in the Paris area. Officials say that man had a Belgian terror conviction and connections to the suspected ringleader of last year’s deadly Nov. 13 attacks in Paris.

Prime Minister Charles Michel skipped a wreath-laying ceremony at the Brussels airport with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry because of the ongoing police operation.

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2:45 p.m.

A new blast has been heard from a police operation in a Brussels neighbourhood that once housed a hideout for the suicide bombers who targeted the city’s airport and subway system this week.

Associated Press reporters at the scene described hearing a new detonation, though it was unclear whether it was a controlled police detonation or something else.

Earlier, a witness speaking on Belgian state broadcaster RTBF described hearing two blasts and shots from heavy weapons during the police raid on the Schaerbeek neighbourhood.

About 50 officers appear to be involved in the operation. It is unclear whether it is linked to Tuesday’s attacks. A tram passing through the area was stopped and evacuated and police cordoned off a wide perimeter of streets.

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2:15 p.m.

Belgian state media is reporting that two explosions have been heard and one person has been detained in police raids in the Brussels neighbourhood of Schaerbeek.

It is not clear whether the raids are linked to the investigation into deadly attacks Tuesday on Brussels’ airport and subway system. At least one suspect in those attacks is at large, and it is unclear whether there were other accomplices.

State broadcaster RTBF says multiple police operations are underway in Schaerbeek, and one person has been detained. It says one explosion was heard at the start of the operation and cited witnesses describing gunfire.

Police earlier this week found a large stash of explosives in an apartment in Schaerbeek believed to have been used by suicide bombers in Tuesday’s attacks.

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1:45 p.m.

The family of two New York City siblings has confirmed that authorities confirmed they died in the bombings in Brussels.

Belgian authorities and the Dutch Embassy positively identified the remains of Alexander and Sascha Pinczowski.

The information was issued Friday by James Cain on behalf of the Pinczowski family. Cain is the father of Alexander’s fiance, Cameron Cain. He says the family is “grateful to have closure on this tragic situation.” The siblings were on the phone with a relative while at Brussels airport when the phone went dead.

They were Dutch nationals, according to officials in the Netherlands, but both apparently had lived in the U.S. for some time.

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1:30 p.m.

A German magazine is reporting that two people with possible links to people involved in the Brussels attacks were arrested separately in Germany this week.

Der Spiegel, which didn’t name its sources, reported that a man whom Turkish authorities flew to Amsterdam last summer along with one of the El Bakraoui brothers was arrested in Duesseldorf Thursday. The magazine said authorities are looking into whether the two knew each other.

The brothers were among the Brussels suicide bombers in Tuesday’s attacks that killed 31 people.

Der Spiegel as well as broadcasters SWR and RBB reported that another man was arrested in Giessen on Wednesday. According to Friday’s reports, the man received two suspicious text messages on the day of the attacks: one containing the name of one of the attackers, and the other the French word “fin” (“end”).

Local prosecutors couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the Good Friday holiday.

Federal prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Frauke Koehler would only say that authorities “are of course looking into all leads, but so far we have no knowledge of any operational links between the attacks in Brussels and Paris and Germany.”

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12:50 p.m.

At Brussels’ Place de la Bourse, where thousands have gathered to place candles and leave flowers, city archives staff were peeling rain-sodden messages of solidarity off the ground, drying them with paper towels, and putting them into plastic bins.

The workers _ who wore fluorescent vests emblazoned with the words “We are working to protect and preserve your messages” _ stepped gingerly among the flags, tea candles and beer bottles left as tokens of support, slowly picking the sopping hand-written notes and stacking them into the bins.

The plaza has become a memorial site, covered in flags from a dozen countries and messages in multiple languages.

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12:45 p.m.

British officials say a U.K. citizen died during the attacks in Brussels earlier this week.

They confirmed that David Dixon, a computer programmer living in Brussels, was killed in the bombing on the Brussels subway.

Officials said seven other British nationals were injured, too.

Dixon’s family has asked for privacy and indicated no statements will be made.

A Chinese national is also reported to have been killed, according to the Chinese Embassy in Belgium. He was identified only by his surname _ Deng. No further details were released.

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12 p.m.

A U.S. official says at least two American citizens have been confirmed killed in this week’s attacks in Brussels.

The announcement comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting the city to express his condolences to the Belgian people.

Speaking after meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Kerry said the “United States is praying and grieving with you for the loved ones of those cruelly taken from us, including Americans, and for the many who were injured in these despicable attacks.”

He did not give a specific number but a senior official said the families of two Americans had been informed of their deaths in Tuesday’s attacks. The official, who was not authorized to speak to the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, did not have further details.

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10:55 a.m.

Belgium’s nuclear agency has withdrawn the entry badges of some staff and has denied access to other people amid concern the country’s nuclear plants could be a target for extremists.

Nuclear control agency spokeswoman Nele Scheerlinck said Friday that “in recent days, several people have been refused access to the nuclear sites.”

But she said the move “is not necessarily linked with the terrorist attacks.”

Immediately after Tuesday’s attacks on the Brussels airport and subway, security was boosted around Belgium’s nuclear sites and hundreds of staff were sent home.

Scheerlinck said the decision to withdraw badges or deny access usually takes weeks and is based on information from the intelligence services and police, as well as a person’s criminal record.

She declined to say how many were refused entry, but denied Belgian media reports that 11 staff had badges withdrawn at the Tihange plant since early last week.

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10:15 a.m.

French officials say a man arrested by intelligence agents in a Paris suburb has connections to the suspected ringleader of the Paris attacks.

Two French officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to be able to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the man detained Thursday is Reda Kriket, a 34-year-old Frenchman wanted since January on suspicion of links to terrorism. France’s interior minister said the man was in the “advanced stages” of a plot to attack a target in France.

A Belgian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason, said Kriket was convicted in absentia in July along with Abdelhamid Abaaoud and others for being part of a recruiting network for jihad in Syria.

Authorities have identified Abaaoud as the ringleader of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. He died in a police raid a few days later.

France’s interior minister said there was no evidence “at this stage” to link Kriket to last year’s Paris attacks or this week’s attacks in Brussels. But a French police official said explosives and multiple weapons, including at least one assault rifle, were found in an hours-long search of a home in Argenteuil.

_ By Associated Press Writers Lori Hinnant in Paris and John-Thor Dahlburg in Brussels.

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9:05 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Brussels for counter-terrorism talks with EU and Belgian officials and to pay his respects to the victims of this week’s attacks.

Kerry landed at the still-closed Brussels airport for a brief, hastily scheduled stop from Moscow, where he said the attacks underscored the urgency of unity in the fight against the Islamic State group. The group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s bombings at the airport departure terminal and a downtown subway station that in total killed 31 people and wounded 270.

On his five-hour visit Kerry is set to meet with European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders as well as King Philippe. He will also lay a wreath at a memorial site at the airport for attack victims.

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8.45 a.m.

The Netherlands’ foreign minister says three Dutch citizens were killed in the bombing at Brussels airport.

Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said in a statement Friday that the victims were a woman from the eastern city of Deventer and a brother and sister from the southern Limburg province who live in the United States. He did not release their identities.

Koenders, who is on a visit to Indonesia, says “it is terrible that these people have been killed by the arbitrariness of terror.”


 

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