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5 Suspects Arrested in Terror Raids in Belgium, France | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Police during a terror raid in Belgium in March 2016. (Getty Images)

Overnight raids against terrorists in France and Belgium saw the arrest of five suspects linked a bikers’ club called the Kamikaze Riders, officials and sources said Wednesday.

A number of weapons were seized in the two raids.

A series of searches in the gritty Anderlecht district of Brussels netted four people and arms hidden in a garage, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office said.

In northern France, a joint Franco-Belgian operation picked up a man on suspicion of having links to the biker club, which is implicated in terror offenses in Belgium.

The raids and arrests come with Belgium and France still on high alert after several deadly attacks claimed by ISIS, with troops on patrol in Brussels and Paris to guard key buildings and infrastructure.

Only last month, a soldier shot dead a man who had attempted to set off a bomb in Central Station, right in the heart of the Belgian capital, sparking fears that further incidents might be in the offing.

Investigators said at the time they had evidence that the suspect, a 36-year-old Moroccan national, had ISIS sympathies.

They also found explosive materials in a raid on his home in Molenbeek, a Brussels district where many of the extremists who carried out the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015 and those in the Belgian capital in March 2016, grew up and found shelter.

In a statement on the latest raids, the Belgian federal prosecutors’ office said “various weapons” were found during one of the house searches and that four people had been “arrested and taken in for questioning”.

A source close to the probe said investigators had found at least two Kalashnikov assault rifles, while reports spoke of explosives also being discovered during operations in the immigrant-heavy Anderlecht district.

A prosecutors’ spokesman said separately the raids were “directly linked” to members of the Kamikaze Riders, not to the investigation into the Paris and Brussels attacks.

The prosecutor’s statement said the raids were “completely independent” from that probe.

In France, a source who asked not to be named, said a 42-year-old arrested in a suburb of the northern city of Lille was suspected of plotting a “violent action.”

Several members of the Kamikaze Riders, known for testing the patience of the police, were suspected of links to foiled attacks in Brussels in late 2015.

In October 2016, two members of the group were convicted of belonging to a terrorist group, one jailed for six years, the other for three.

They were suspected of plotting an attack similar to the November 2015 carnage in Paris that left 130 people dead.

Four months later, extremists also struck in Brussels, hitting the airport and the metro, killing 32 people and leaving hundreds injured.

Founded in 2003 in the Brussels suburbs, the Kamikaze Riders were originally known to the police for flouting the highway code on motorways surrounding the Belgian capital.

But the arrest of two of its members in late 2015 shook Belgium and led to the cancellation of New Year fireworks in Brussels, on suspicions they had been planning an attack of the same type as those committed in Paris in 2015.

No weapons or explosives were found in the investigation, and the authorities later dropped the original charges of plotting a New Year’s attack.

But the two men — Said Saouti, 30, who was sentenced to six years in prison, and Mohamed Karay, 27, sentenced to three years — were convicted of “belonging to a terrorist group” linked to ISIS.

Saouti was also found guilty of having recruited people with a view to committing “terrorist offenses”.

The Brussels court based its judgment on numerous videos advocating extremism that he had posted on the internet.

At the end of the trial, Saouti expressed regrets for his radical statements on social media, but the prosecutor, in her summarizing arguments, dismissed his statement.