Belgium steps up security measures after train attack

2015-08-22 20:00
(Francois Walschaerts, AP)

(Francois Walschaerts, AP)

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Brussels - Belgium decided on Saturday to step up security measures across its national railway network the day after a thwarted attack aboard an Amsterdam-Paris train by a suspected jihadist gunman.

Starting this weekend, Belgian authorities said, patrols of the high-speed Thalys rail line as well as checks and patrols at international train stations would be intensified. Baggage checks were also set to be reinforced.

Armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, an automatic pistol, nine cartridge clips and a box-cutter, an attacker opened fire on board a Thalys train just after it crossed from Belgium into France on Friday evening.

He was overpowered by a group of passengers, including two American servicemen, but not before he wounded two people who authorities said were expected to survive.

The bolstered security measures decided at a meeting of Belgium's national security council, which included top ministers and officials, were accompanied by a warning to police to employ "increased vigilance against suspicious behaviour".

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel and French President Francois Hollande spoke on Friday and agreed to step up cooperation on security matters between their two countries.

If the suspect's identity is confirmed - he is believed to be a 26-year-old Moroccan national - Spanish authorities informed Belgium of his interest in the Islamist extremist milieu and its ideas. He is thought to have lived in Belgium in 2015.

The motives for the shooting were not immediately known, although French prosecutors said counter-terrorism investigators had taken over the probe.

While no major security changes were immediately announced in other European countries, varying levels of precautions are already in place.

Long distance train passengers' bags are generally subject to a check in Spain, especially at Madrid's Atocha train station where 191 people were killed in a 2004 bomb attack.

In Italy, security checks have been increased at the main rail station since May following concerns over a heightened risk of attack. However, baggage is not subject to inspection.

On British soil only Eurostar trains, which link Britain and France, are under a security scheme that includes strict checks. However, transit police, who are sometimes armed, patrol major British rail stations.

Neither Germany nor Switzerland have heavy security measures visible to travellers on their railway systems.

Read more on:    belgium

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