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France Examines Explosive Vest as Brussels Stays on Lockdown


France Examines Explosive Vest as Brussels Stays on Lockdown

© 2015 Bloomberg News
John Martens, Dara Doyle and Geraldine Amiel

(Bloomberg) — Investigators raced to examine an explosive vest similar to those used in the Paris attacks for clues as police across Europe hunted for a key suspect in the assaults and Brussels remained on security lockdown.

The device was found Monday night in a Paris suburb where a mobile phone belonging to the suspect, Salah Abdeslam, was located after the attacks, said Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office. The vest has yet to be formally linked to Abdeslam, one of two brothers believed to have been involved in the assaults, she said. The prosecutors plan to hold a press conference this evening.

Authorities extended the highest-level terror alert for Brussels into next week over concern an assault on highly populated areas like malls and metro stations was imminent. The crisis prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a global travel alert, warning Americans to be vigilant in public places and saying the likelihood of attacks would continue as Islamic State members returned from Iraq and Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande in Washington to discuss their response.

“Shopping centers, streets, public transport” are all potential targets, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said late Monday in Brussels. The government is doing “everything in our power to keep the situation under control” and will review things each day. He warned the threat he had told the Belgian people about over the weekend had not diminished.

Armed Police

Brussels has been paralyzed by a threat of terror unprecedented for a western capital. Since Saturday gun-toting soldiers and armed police have patrolled its streets as people followed the government’s advice to avoid large public gatherings. Monday night’s decision looks set to extend the disruptions into next weekend. The city’s schools and subway will be closed for Tuesday before gradually re-opening on Wednesday, Michel said.

Subway service in Paris was interrupted on Tuesday because of security concerns at Place de la Republique, the square where firecrackers mistook for gunshots sparked a panic two days after the attacks. Five lines of the Paris Metro serving Republique were affected, the city’s transit agency said.

Belgian authorities charged one of 16 suspects detained during Sunday night raids on suspicion of involvement in the Paris attacks. Another 15 taken into custody were released, the federal prosecutor’s office said in an e-mailed statement. Two of a further five people arrested in Brussels and Liege on Monday morning were also released.

Disruptions

The decision to keep Brussels on a heightened state of alert extends the disruption to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union, both of which have their headquarters in the city. NATO told non-essential staff to stay at home Monday, while the EU opened with reinforced security.

“This fear is new,” said Laura, an Italian, who declined to give her last name because she works for the European Commission. “I’m used to seeing police in Brussels, but not at this level.”

Belgium’s financial industry employs about 50,000 people and some of the largest companies instructed employees to work from home. KBC Groep NV, Belgium’s biggest bank, closed its Brussels headquarters on Monday.

“There is no panic among the population,” said Francoise Schepmans, the mayor of the Brussels district of Molenbeek, where many of the suspected terrorists lived. “There is of course worry and it’s true that the operations of the last few days have created anxiety, particularly among the local residents and with young people,” she told RTBF TV.

–With assistance from Marine Strauss, Julia Verlaine and Ian Wishart.

To contact the reporters on this story: John Martens in Brussels at jmartens1@bloomberg.net; Dara Doyle in Dublin at ddoyle1@bloomberg.net; Geraldine Amiel in Paris at gamiel@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Chad Thomas, Jones Hayden

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