Sections of Brussels were shut down Tuesday morning after police responded to a bomb scare.
A man who has only been identified as J.B. called Brussels police, claiming he had been kidnapped and forced to wear a bomb belt that could be detonated remotely. Upon investigation, police discovered that the bomb was a fake.
The contents of the “bomb”? Salt and cookies, reported CBC News.
The prosecutor’s office has since reported that the individual has a history of psychiatric issues and a criminal record. At the moment, the priority for Brussels’ security officials is determining whether the bomb scare is simply a hoax or tied to larger terrorist activities.
Around 5:30 a.m. Brussels time, J.B. called police alerting them to the alleged bomb. According to Reuters, back in 2014 the man responsible for the scare told police he had been enlisted to join the Islamic State in Syria, but police were unable to confirm or deny the man’s claims. A vehicle matching the description he relayed to police was later found in Schaerbeek, an area in Brussels.
An emergency cabinet meeting soon convened to address the Brussels bomb scare.
“The situation is for now under control. We remain vigilant,” stated Prime Minister Charles Michel after the emergency security cabinet meeting, the Telegraph reported.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a subsequent search of the home of the fake bomber revealed the materials the suspect used to manufacture the fake belt for the bomb scare. He later told Brussels police that he had made the entire story up.
At the moment, Belgium’s threat level remains at three out of four, which means that a terrorist attack is possible. The public is particularly on edge. It has been three months since bombs were detonated in a Brussels airport and subway, which left 32 people dead. Later investigations revealed the holes within Belgium’s security and the number of hints officials missed leading up to the Brussels attack. In the time since, several raids have followed exposing the extremist hideouts and terror cells right in Belgium.
On Friday night, Belgian police conducted a series of raids in Brussels questioning dozens and arresting three. The three individuals who were arrested, identified only as Samir C., Moustapha B., and Jawad B., were charged with attempted terrorist murder and participation in a terrorist group, according to the New York Times. Authorities believed they planned to carry out an attack against fans gathering to watch the Belgium versus Ireland game for the UEFA Championships.
The Belgian interior minister, Jan Jambon, urged the public to remain calm in a radio interview early this week, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The focus of the government’s security efforts has been on mitigating the risk posed to those in so-called “soft targets,” such as large gatherings in public spaces. The 2016 Euro Cup poses a particular challenge to law enforcement and security officials since many fans will be gathering in pubs and squares across the country to watch the tournament.
This is not the first bomb scare to distract security officials. On Sunday, a Brussels train station was briefly evacuated due to a suspicious suitcase. The raids and arrests that had come just the day before further amplified the fear and urgency of police.
At present, it is uncertain whether the man responsible for the scare, J.B., will be charged, released, or ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
[Image via kamui29/Shutterstock]