Belgium Warns of ‘Serious and Imminent Threat’ to Brussels


Paris (CNN) – [Breaking news update, posted at 8:27 p.m. ET Friday]

Belgium has placed Brussels at the highest terror alert level, citing a “serious and imminent threat that requires taking specific security measures as well as specific recommendations for the population.”

The announcement by the Crisis Centre of the Belgian Interior Ministry is advising the public to avoid places where large groups gather – such as concerts, sporting events, airports and train stations – and comply with security checks.

The increase in alert level comes as authorities investigating last week’s terror attacks in Paris conduct raids in Belgium as they work to identify and take down the network of terrorists behind the carnage.

[Previous story, posted at 7:10 p.m. ET]

French Senate approves extension of state of emergency

The French Parliament on Friday completed its approval to extend the state of emergency for three months after terrorist attacks last week that left 130 people dead.

France’s upper house, the Senate, unanimously passed the bill. The National Assembly, the lower chamber, overwhelming approved it Thursday. The next step is for the bill to be reviewed by France’s constitutional council, which is not expected to cause any problems.

Authorities had been using the state of emergency declared by President Francois Hollande to carry out a widespread clampdown on potential terrorist threats, detaining dozens of people, putting more than 100 others under house arrest and seizing an alarming array of weapons.

In remarks to the Senate before the vote, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said 793 searches had been carried out across France in the past seven days. In all, 174 weapons, including “18 weapons of war,” were seized, he said.

France has about 10,000 military personnel deployed across the country in addition to 100,000 police officers and gendarmes, plus 5,500 customs officials, Valls said.

“We have control of the train stations, airports and (public) transport. (We have) reestablished control of the internal borders like the Schengen with 132 passages that are controlled at all times, 61 by the police at the borders, 71 by customs officials,” Valls said.

Since the attacks last Friday, 164 people considered dangerous have been placed under house arrest, he said.

Meanwhile, two of those involved in last week’s attacks entered Europe at the same entry point in Greece and on the same day, the prosecutor’s office said. Both became suicide bombers outside entrances at Stade de France, one blowing himself at 9:20 p.m. and the other at 9:30 p.m.

U.S. national security officials told CNN that four of the Paris attackers were on the broad “watch list” of known or suspected terror suspects called TIDE (Terrorist Identity Datamart Environment), which has 1.1 million names. At least one of the suicide bombers was on the no-fly list before the attacks.

Meanwhile, Valls announced that one more person has died following last week’s attacks, bringing the death toll to 130.

Ringleader dead

Authorities had identified the body of ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud. He was killed during a dramatic raid that shook the Saint-Denis neighborhood and collapsed an entire floor of an apartment building. But investigators say their work is far from finished.

A series of raids in Belgium and the search of a home on the outskirts of Paris on Thursday were the latest signs of investigators’ efforts to piece together – and take down – the network of terrorists behind the attacks before they can strike again.

Meanwhile, the Paris prosecutor’s office announced that Hasna Ait Boulahcen, the woman found dead after the police raid in Saint-Denis, did not blow herself up as preliminary information earlier suggested.

Rather, a man was wearing a suicide device that detonated, the prosecutor’s office told CNN. Further details about him weren’t immediately released.

Boulahcen, 26, was a relative of Abaaoud, official sources in France told CNN.

Friends of her family in their hometown of Aulnay-sous-Bois, on the northeastern outskirts of Paris, said she had lived there until recently. Residents in the area told CNN authorities had taken her mother and brother into custody. And the Paris prosecutor’s office told CNN that police were searching the mother’s home.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Abaaoud “played a decisive role” in the Paris attacks and played a part in four of six terror attacks foiled since spring, with one alleged jihadist claiming Abaaoud had trained him personally.

Nathalie Gallant, the attorney for Abaaoud’s father, told CNN that her client feels guilty about her son’s radicalization and is “relieved” that his son is dead.

She said the father thinks his son was a “psychopath” and “became the devil.”

Searching for suspects

Authorities have said they believe at least two suspects in the Paris attacks could be on the run.

Salah Abdeslam, 26, is the subject of an international search warrant. He was last seen driving toward the Belgian border when police stopped and questioned him a few hours after the attacks, not knowing that he was involved. Now, his whereabouts are unknown.

Wherever he is, Gallant, who also represents Abdeslam’s brother Mohamed, said the family hasn’t heard from him and is hoping Abaaoud’s death will persuade him to surrender.

“He’s waiting to know if Salah is dead or still on the run,” she said.

Belgium, where Abdeslam and Abaaoud both lived and spent time together in prison, has also become a key focal point of the investigation.

With pockets of the country seen as fertile ground for jihadist recruiters, it’s where members of a suspected terror cell waged a deadly gun battle in January with police and also where three Americans in August overpowered a radical Islamist gunman on a Paris-bound train.

Investigators there detained nine people in raids across the country Thursday, and later released seven of them. Some of them, authorities said, were tied to Bilal Hadfi, a suicide bomber who died in last week’s Paris attacks

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