Officers swooped on properties before arresting the suspects – who included a group they believe were forming an “imminent” terror plot aimed at Belgium’s police forces.
Two men were killed and another seriously injured during a raid on the town of Verviers on Thursday night.
The dead suspects are believed to be Redouane Hagaoui, 22, also known as Abu Khalid al-Maghribi, and Tarik Jadaoun, who had the alias Abu Hamza Belgiki. They are both understood to have recently returned to their hometown of Verviers after fighting with Islamic State in Syria.
Last night Hagaoui’s sister said she feared he was dead. She also confirmed he had travelled to Syria in the last year and that she had not spoken to him since.
Prosecutors said five people had been charged in Belgium following the series of anti-terror raids. They were charged with “participating in the activities of a terrorist group”.
However, prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said the other eight people who had been arrested would not be charged.
Earlier, Belgium’s government announced tough new measures to tackle terrorism.
Authorities said there was no known link to the terrorist attacks in France, which began with the shootings at the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week, adding that work on the plot had begun before the gun massacre occurred. Talking about Thursday night’s raids, prosecutor Thierry Werts said: “The group was about to commit terrorist attacks, including killing police officers on the street and in the police station.
“It was a matter of hours maybe, at most a few days.”
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He added that in properties in Verviers, several weapons were found, including four Kalashnikov AK 47-type and handguns”, as well as ammunition, police uniforms, mobile phones, fake documents and large sums of money.
“They were planning attacks on the whole of Belgium,” said Mr Van der Sypt.
“I can confirm we started this investigation before the attacks in Paris,” he said, adding that officials believed the group planned attacks similar to that on Fusilier Lee Rigby, who was murdered on the streets of Woolwich in London in March 2013 by extremists Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who have since been jailed.
They also planned to carry out a bus hijacking, taking a number of hostages.
However, Mr Van der Sypt said he could not confirm that everyone in the jihadist group had been arrested and said that Belgium would seek the extradition of two suspects in France.
Belgian prime minister Charles Michel thanked the French authorities for detaining the suspects in France.
He told the public there was no need to panic, and that his government would “take measures” to ensure the safety of civilians.
However, Rob Wainwright, head of the police agency Europol, yesterday said foiling terror attacks has become “extremely difficult” because Europe’s 2,500 to 5,000 radicalised Muslim extremists have little command structure and are increasingly sophisticated.
He said: “We’re dealing with multiple thousands of potential terrorists.”
He added that it was hard for police to identify plans because suspects were “working in a self-radicalised way very often, not necessarily under any command-and-control structure”.
Belgian authorities did not give details of the background of people detained or killed, but said most appeared to be Belgian citizens.
Belgium has seen a particularly large number of people join extremists in Syria, and is “the worst affected country in Europe relative to population size”, said Peter Neumann, of the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.
He estimates 450 people have left Belgium to fight with Islamist groups in Syria, and that 150 have returned home.
The terror threat level in Belgium has been raised to three – the second highest. Some Jewish schools in Antwerp and Brussels were closed yesterday, after they were told they could be potential targets.
Meanwhile, a hostage situation at a post office near Paris ended yesterday afternoon with no casualties.
A man armed with a rifle was a customer who seemed “to have lost his head,” over a failed relationship, Paris police said.
l An 18-year-old woman was yesterday arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences when she arrived on a flight at Stansted Airport. Counter-terrorism officers arrested her at around 4pm, Scotland Yard said.
She was taken to a central London police station, where she remained in custody on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts and membership of a proscribed organisation, police said.
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