Terror cell leader at large; Belgium, EU on high alert
Europe was on high alert on Monday as the suspected mastermind of a jihadist cell in Belgium remained at large and jittery authorities blocked anti-Islamist rallies in Germany and France.
In the wake of the deadly attacks in France and anti-terror raids in Belgium, EU foreign ministers are to meet in Brussels to discuss ways to boost cooperation to combat the threat posed by radicalised Europeans returning home after fighting in Iraq and Syria.
The meeting Monday comes as the bloc prepares for a special leaders’ summit on February 12 dedicated to fighting terrorism.
With tensions heightened, the second gunman in the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine which killed 12 people was buried discreetly in an unmarked grave near Paris late Saturday in the hope that it would not become a pilgrimage site for radical Islamists.
Meanwhile, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, considered the brains behind the cell plotting to kill Belgian police, was still on the run days after the group was dismantled by intelligence services.
But the probe appeared to be progressing with Belgian federal prosecutors announcing they would seek the extradition of a suspect arrested in Athens on Saturday “who could be linked” to the cell.
In Germany, police banned a rally by the anti-Islamic PEGIDA movement and other open-air gatherings planned for Monday in the eastern city of Dresden, saying there was a “concrete threat” of an attack against its leadership.
The group claimed the threat came from the Islamic State group based in Syria and Iraq, with local media reporting that PEGIDA’s most prominent leader Lutz Bachmann was the target.
The PEGIDA marches have grown steadily since they began in October and drew a record 25,000 people last Monday in the wake of the Paris attacks that left 17 people dead.
The anti-Islamic rallies have spread to other European countries as well, with the first Danish PEGIDA march to take place in Copenhagen on Monday. Organisers said they were expecting some 300 people.
Separately, a French court on Sunday prevented a rally by anti-Islamist groups in Paris on the grounds that they were promoting Islamophobia.
Meanwhile in a New York Times op-ed, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen urged the government to denounce as “Islamists” the perpetrators of the Paris attacks.
“France, land of human rights and freedoms, was attacked on its own soil by a totalitarian ideology: Islamic fundamentalism,” Le Pen wrote.