Police Raids In Brussels Nab ISIS Operatives, ‘Explosive’ Backpack

In a series of police raids in Brussels today, Belgian police arrested three people in connection with the Brussels bombings and ongoing ISIS plots throughout Europe. One man, arrested by Brussels police while sitting at a tram stop, was reportedly carrying a backpack filled with explosives and was reportedly involved in planning an attack against the citizens of Brussels.

According to eyewitnesses, the Brussels police approached a man sitting at a tram stop carrying a large backpack, and he was reportedly with a young girl. Brussels police asked the young girl to come to them and demanded that the man place the bag down and step away. Eyewitnesses claim Brussels police shot the man twice in the leg before taking him into custody.

“I was very shocked, this part of Brussels is very quiet,” says the eyewitness, a Belgian electrician, who witnessed the brief shootout today.

The raids by Brussels police have been centered on the neighborhood of Schaerbeek, a district of Brussels connected to the bombers in Tuesday’s deadly attacks that left 31 people dead, including two Americans. In response to international criticism over the handling of the Brussels bombers – who were known to authorities prior to the attacks Tuesday – the Brussels police and Belgian federal police have stepped up efforts to root ISIS and any potential attackers from the city.

“He belongs to a terrorist network that sought to strike our country,” said the French Interior Minister, confirming the arrest of a French national on Thursday but declining to confirm the ISIS operative’s identity.

Brussels was wracked with gunfire and explosions today as police moved on even more suspected ISIS militants, some of whom were close to the final stages of planning for further attacks in Brussels. Police made at least 11 arrests during raids today, wounding several suspects in isolated gunfights yesterday and today.

“I heard two very loud shots, I don’t know what they were. Immediately, within seconds, police arrived and the streets were evacuated,” reports an eyewitness speaking to BBC News.

Brussels police brought in a remote-operated bomb disposal robot to investigate the backpack carried by the suspect apprehended at the tram stop. He laid down near the tracks and waited for the robot to open and investigate the contents of his backpack, which Brussels authorities report contained explosives and bomb parts.

Brussels authorities have conducted house-to-house searches throughout the Schaerbeek neighborhood, scouring the city for any remnants of the ISIS cell responsible for the deadly bombings at a Brussels metro station and the Brussels airport on Tuesday. Three men were arrested in raids just today, two of which suffered gunshot injuries, reports ABC News.

According to the Washington Post, the arrests are in part the result of a major arrest made by French authorities on Thursday evening, when suspected ISIS operative Reda Kriket was arrested in Paris.

Speaking with the press today after the raids carried out by Brussels police, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned ISIS and discussed U.S. and Belgium’s plans to prevent future attacks like the Brussels bombings.

“We will not rest until we have eliminated your nihilistic beliefs and cowardice from the face of the Earth,” Secretary John Kerry said today, speaking directly to ISIS, who claimed responsibility for the bombings in Brussels on Tuesday.

Victories against ISIS have seen the organization shift its tactics from an emphasis on battlefield superiority, capturing cities, and territories to one the people of Brussels saw all too clearly on Tuesday – constant, unpredictable attacks to leave local authorities like the Brussels police off-balance and scrambling to apprehend ISIS members before they can strike, as ABC News reports.

[Photo by Alastair Grant/AP]