Police found a man dead when they stormed a house in Brussels at the end of a major anti-terror operation Tuesday, several hours after they were shot at during a raid linked to last year's attacks in Paris, a prosecutor said.
It was not clear whether the dead man was one of the suspects sought in the raid earlier Tuesday in the Forest neighbourhood of Brussels, the Belgian capital where several of the Paris attackers lived. Four police officers from the French-Belgian operation were injured when at least one suspect opened fire through the door, apparently with an assault weapon, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
Forest mayor Marc-Jean Ghyssels told local media two people had barricaded themselves in a home during the raid, but it was not clear what happened to them.
The prosecutor, who asked not to be identified because the operation was not finished, said it was not clear if suspects from the raid were on the run. He said many people fled the area when they heard gunfire, and it was too early to say if some were suspects or all were just people trying to escape.
Operation still ongoing
The anti-terror raid in the Forest neighbourhood was linked to the Nov. 13 gun and bomb attacks on a stadium, cafes and a concert hall in Paris that left 130 people dead. Yet police didn't expect violent resistance on Tuesday, the prosecutor said. That indicated they were not targeting a major suspect like Salah Abdeslam, who fled Paris and remains on the run. Most of the attackers died that night, including Abdeslam's brother Brahim, who blew himself up.
Four months on, Belgian police and magistrates are still piecing together the role Belgian nationals and others living here played in aiding the Paris attackers.
The suspected ringleader of the attacks was a Brussels resident, Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Another attacker, Bilal Hadfi, was said to have lived for a time in the Forest neighbourhood. Hadfi blew himself up outside a stadium in Paris the night of the attacks and Abaaoud was killed in a police raid in a Paris suburb soon after.
After five hours of intense police activity in the Forest neighbourhood Tuesday, security forces escorted children away from nearby schools and kindergartens and began to allow residents back to homes in the suburban neighbourhood, Reuters journalists at the scene said.
Belgium continuing search for terror suspects
Police sealed off a wide perimeter around the area where the shots were heard to keep the many bystanders at a safe distance. A helicopter was hovering overhead to patrol the area as police were still looking for at least one suspect. Several hundred spectators were trying to get a closer look at the operation in the multicultural neighbourhood, which has a big Audi car factory nearby. Audi asked its personnel to stay at the plant while the police raid was going on.
Several hooded officers wearing body armour milled around the neighbourhood and ambulances were on standby.
Belgian authorities have stepped up their counterterror efforts since a lone gunman killed four people at the Brussels Jewish museum in May 2014. The small western European country has also been prime recruiting ground for the Islamic State group, and officials freely acknowledge their concerns about what radicalized recruits might do after returning home from the battlefields of Syria or Iraq.
Tuesday's raid was a reminder of the anxious days the Belgian capital lived through in November and December, when the subway and schools were closed for a time, and the New Year's Eve fireworks display was cancelled because of the threat of extremist violence.