Arrests in France, Germany amid terrorist tensions

2015-01-16 12:55

French and German authorities arrested at least 12 people today suspected of links to the Islamic State group and a Paris train station was evacuated, with Europe on alert for new potential terrorist attacks.

The police raids came the morning after Belgian authorities moved swiftly to pre-empt what they called a major impending attack, killing two suspects in a firefight and arresting a third in a vast anti-terrorism sweep that stretched into the night.

Visiting a scarred Paris today, United States Secretary of State John Kerry met France’s president, François Hollande, and visited the sites of the city’s worst terrorist bloodshed in decades. Twenty people, including the three gunmen, were killed last week in attacks on a kosher supermarket and the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and on police.

Hollande thanked Kerry for offering France support, saying: “You’ve been victims yourself of an exceptional terrorist attack on September 11 2001. You know what it means for a country. We must find together appropriate responses.”

Paris is at its highest terrorism alert level, and police evacuated the Gare de l’Est train station today after a bomb threat. The station, one of several main stations in Paris, serves cities in eastern Paris and countries to the east.

The Paris prosecutor’s office, meanwhile, said at least 10 people were arrested in anti-terrorism raids in the region, targeting people linked to one of the French gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, who claimed ties to the Islamic State group. Police officials earlier told The Associated Press that they were seeking up to eight to 10 potential accomplices.

In Berlin, police arrested two men this morning on suspicion of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group in Syria.

Across Europe, anxiety has grown as the hunt continues for potential accomplices of the three Paris terrorists, and as authorities try to prevent attacks by the thousands of European extremists who have joined Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq.

“The fight against terrorism must be international,” France Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said today.

“Everybody must act: France, Europe and every country.”

The Belgian raid on a former bakery was another palpable sign that terror had seeped deep into Europe’s heartland as security forces struck against militants some of who may be returnees from holy war in Syria.

After the gun smoke lifted, police continued with searches in Verviers and the greater Brussels area, seeking more clues in a weeks-long investigation that started well before the terrorism rampage in France last week. The Belgian operations had no apparent link to the attacks in France.

And, unlike the Paris terrorists, the suspects in Belgium were reportedly aiming at hard targets: police installations.

“They were on the verge of committing important terror attacks,” federal magistrate Eric van der Sypt told a news conference in Brussels.

“It shows we have to be extremely careful,” Van der Sypt said. The Verviers suspects “were extremely well-armed men” equipped with automatic weapons, he said.

Some of the individuals “were in Syria and had come back,” he added.

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