Brussels remained essentially under lockdown on Monday after overnight raids failed to trap possibly the most wanted man in Europe. This is the third straight day Belgium’s capital has been on high alert after warnings of possible terrorist attacks similar to those in Paris on Nov. 13.
Belgian officials stated that five more raids were carried out overnight just hours after Brussels residents were told to find shelter as police searched almost 20 properties around the capital, NBC News reported.
Five more people were arrested as part of the operation, bringing the total number to 21 arrested in raids across Brussels and in Charleroi (another city in Belgium), according to federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt. Previously, he had said that fugitive Salah Abdeslam, who is wanted in connection with the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, was not one of those taken into custody.
Nearly 1,000 police officers were searching for Abdeslam, Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon said on local radio. When Jambon was asked how it was possible the suspect had yet to have been caught, she said, “he must have a lot of support on our soil.”
Authorities were unable to locate any explosives or firearms in the raids, suggesting that the threat has not been defused, CNN reported. As a result, the government raised the terrorism alert to the highest level for Brussels.
Schools and the subway were shut down and officials have urged locals to avoid public spaces. NATO headquarters said they were open, but some visits were cancelled and some staff asked to work from home, NBC reported.
The metropolitan area of Brussels holds about 1.9 million people.
“We are concerned about an attack similar to the one that was carried out in Paris involving several individuals and maybe targeting attacks on several sites simultaneously,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Sunday.
CNN security analyst Paul Cruickshank said that there is “unprecedented concern” among Belgium’s authorities. “The worry is that there’s another attack team out there, that they have explosives, that they have weapons,” he said on CNN’s New Day Monday. “Belgian police don’t have a handle on where these guys are and that’s why they’re shaking the tree so hard.”
And so the city is left with soldiers and tanks in the streets for another day at least. “This is a very exceptional situation that I have never seen in my life,” said 57-year-old member of the Brussels regional parliament Alain Destexhe. He called Brussels’ atmosphere “very heavy.”