‘Imminent threat of attack’: Brussels closes metro as capital on high alert

The Belgian capital, Brussels, is facing a “serious and imminent” threat of a terrorist attack, with a government official warning the public to avoid crowds, while the metro has been closed. Brussels has raised its alert status to the highest possible level.

Brussels security forces are looking for at least two men, one of who might be carrying a bomb of the same type used in Paris attacks on November 13, Belgian Le Soir reported.

"The advice for the population is to avoid places where a lot of people come together, like shopping centers, concerts, events or public transport stations wherever possible," a spokesman for the government's crisis center said, Reuters reported.

The recommendation came after the government increased its threat scale to “level four” following a meeting of ministers, police and the security services.

The government spokesman did not say what had prompted the new measures to be taken.

A statement on the crisis center’s website has called on local authorities to cancel large events, such as football matches, and to close the Brussels metro for the weekend as well has having a greater police and military presence on the city’s streets.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has offered a new update for its citizens traveling to Belgium, or already in the country.

“Following the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November and subsequent police raids in Belgium and France, the Belgian government has increased its national threat level to the top level, very serious, for the Brussels region, indicating that the threat of a terrorist attack is serious and imminent; people should avoid places where there is a high concentration of people,” the statement read.

The terror threat throughout Belgium has been raised following the Paris terror attacks. The country has been at the center of investigations into who carried out the deadly assaults, as it emerged that two of the suicide bombers had been living in Brussels. Three people have been arrested so far in Belgium and are facing terrorism charges.

The Molenbeek area in central Brussels has been in the headlines over the past week as it was from this district in the Belgian capital where some of the terrorists who carried out the Paris attacks were living.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon says it is time for the government to take the necessary steps to tackle the problems of jihadism and radicalization in the area, while adding that they will check “every address in Molenbeek.” 

"It is unacceptable that we do not know who is living in this area," he said in an interview with the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper. "There are two people registered in some apartments, but actually 10 living there.” 

Jambon is calling for door-to-door searches to take place.

“The local authorities must go from door-to-door, ring the bell and ask who actually lives there. An address should be checked by a police officer when a person goes to live at a new abode,” the interior minister added, speaking to Het Nieuwsblad.

One of the suspected participants in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, returned to Brussels from Paris following the November 13 assaults. He managed to arrive back in the Belgian capital having evaded police three times. His elder brother Brahim blew himself up at a cafe in Paris.

Fears that Salah Abdeslam could still pose a security threat caused the Belgian government to cancel an international football friendly between Belgium and Spain during the week. However, no official reason has been given for the heightened security.

"We cannot give more information... The work of federal prosecutors is still going on," a Crisis Center spokesman said, as cited by Reuters, adding the government was assessing what extra security measures to take. Soldiers are already on guard in certain parts of Brussels, including at the institutions of the European Union headquartered in the city. Brussels is also home to the headquarters of NATO.

The last time any part of Belgium was put on maximum alert was in May 2014 when four people were shot dead by a gunman at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. In that instance, Jewish schools, synagogues and other institutions were put on a “level four” alert.