Belgian police fired water cannon to disperse a large group of protesters who stormed a central Brussels square yesterday.
They invaded the Place de la Bourse as people paid tribute at a makeshift memorial for victims of last Tuesday’s deadly attacks.
Riot police intervened to try to restore order after the group confronted Muslim women in the crowd, made Nazi salutes and chanted nationalist and anti-immigrant slogans.
Meanwhile the Belgium government sought to contain criticism of its handling of the Brussels attacks, as investigators launched 13 anti-terrorist raids in the capital and two other cities and took four more people into custody.
Interior minister Jan Jambon conceded yesterday that decades of neglect had hampered the government’s response to violent extremism. He said the government has invested €600 million into police and security services over the past two years but that Belgium’s justice system and security services are still lagging behind.
Mr Jambon, whose offer to resign on Thursday was declined by the prime minister, also acknowledged some shortcomings prior to the 22 March suicide bombings in Brussels that killed at least 31 people and wounded 270 others. “There have been errors,” he said on VRT television.
Mr Jambon said it takes time to hire anti-terrorism specialists and specialised equipment and insisted that the government’s new investments need time before they become visible to the public.
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, said yesterday morning’s raids were linked to a “federal case regarding terrorism” but did not specify whether it had any links to the 22 March attacks.
The 13 raids were launched in the capital and the northern cities of Mechelen and Duffel. An investigating judge will decide whether the four will remain in custody. Five were released after questioning.
As international pressure on Belgium has mounted for serving as an unwitting rear-base for extremist fighters who launched the 13 November massacres that left 130 dead in Paris, the government has felt forced to defend its choices and the actions of investigators. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are demanding an inquiry.
Belgian police and the army have been deployed, sometimes around the clock, at major buildings and sites in the capital in increasing numbers since November, when Brussels went into lockdown over fears that Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam had returned and was hiding there.