Brussels- Brussels central train station was evacuated for about an hour on Sunday because of a suspicious suitcase amid heightened security fears in the Belgian capital after a huge anti-terror operation led to three men being charged with terrorism offences.
The suitcase later turned out to be a false alarm but shows Belgium’s high state of alert as the Euro 2016 soccer tournament is under way in neighboring France, three months after bombers killed 32 people in Brussels.
The alert came less than 24 hours after major anti-terror raids in the region resulted in the apprehension of three men on terrorism charges as the police arrested 12 terror suspects feared to be plotting imminent attacks in Belgium.
Belgian police searched 40 houses and 152 garage lockups between Friday night and Saturday, arresting 12 people following reports of possible attacks targeting soccer fans watching the matches in Brussels. They later released nine after questioning.
The three Belgian men charged with “having attempted to commit a terrorist murder and for participation in the activities of a terrorist group” were identified by prosecutors only as 27-year-old Samir C., 40-year-old Mostafa B., and 29-year-old Jawad B.
Belgian media reported they had links to the men prosecutors believe carried out the Brussels twin bombings in March, brothers Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui.
Investigators have found links between the Brussels attackers and ISIS militants who killed 130 people in a spate of shootings and suicide bombings in Paris in November.
On Friday police arrested and detained a 30-year-old man named Youssef E.A, a Belgian national, on suspicion of taking part in terrorist activities in connection with the Brussels attacks.
Following the arrests, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel stressed that all football-related events should continue as planned, however, fans should expect “extra security measures” to be in place.
He said: “We want to continue living normally. The situation is under control. We are extremely vigilant, we are monitoring the situation hour by hour and we will continue with determination the fight against extremism, radicalization and terrorism.”
“It will be the case in the coming hours that we will take additional and adapted measures,” said Michel after a meeting of the nation’s Security Council.
Belgium has been living under such a threat level since the November attacks in Paris, some of whose perpetrators were either Belgian nationals or had lived in Brussels. On March 22, attacks on the Brussels subway and airport killed 32.
Meanwhile, four top cabinet members, including Prime Minister Charles Michel, Minister of Interior Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens received special protection following unspecified threats.