Continent-wide crackdown on terrorists in Europe
Following up on the raid on Thursday in Verviers, Belgium that killed two terrorists and wounded one, authorities in France, Germany, and the Netherlands arrested dozens of suspected terrorists, smashing several cells and capturing weapons. Belgium followed up its assault that police say foiled an "imminent" terrorist attack by arresting another 13 suspected terrorists.
Authorities in Belgium signaled they were ready for more trouble by raising the national terror alert level from 2 to 3, the second-highest level. Prime Minister Charles Michel said the increase in the threat level was "a choice for prudence."
"There is no concrete or specific knowledge of new elements of threat," he said.
Meanwhile, French police arrested at least 12 people in anti-terrorism raids in three towns around Paris, the city prosecutor's office said early Friday.
The prosecutor's office said that the raids were targeting people with links to Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who attacked a kosher supermarket Jan. 9 and claimed ties to the Islamic State terror group. Police officials earlier told The Associated Press that they were seeking up to eight to 10 potential accomplices
Coulibaly was one of three gunmen who carried out a series of terror attacks that resulted in the deaths of 17 people. Authorities in France and several other countries are looking for possible accomplices. One suspect, Coulibaly's common-law wife Hayat Boumeddiane, is believed to have fled to Syria earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported Friday morning that the Gare l'Est train station in Paris had been closed and evacuated due to a bomb threat. A police official, who was not authorized to be publicly named, told the AP that the station was closed "as a precaution," but would not give further details. The Gare l'Est is one of the major stations in Paris, serving cities in Eastern France and countries to the east.
Also Friday, Berlin police said that they had taken two men into custody on suspicion that they were recruiting fighters and procuring equipment and funding for the Islamic State group, better known as ISIS, in Syria.
The two were picked up in a series of raids involving the search of 11 residences by 250 police officers. Authorities said the raids were part of a months-long investigation into a small group of extremists based in Berlin. However, they also said there was no evidence the group was planning attacks inside Germany.
The proximity to the Paris attacks is not a coincidence. While I have no doubt that authorities were worried about the suspects, picking them up now in a very public way is meant to assure their citizens that they are on top of the threat – even if they aren't. The fact is, European authorities know who these people are. They have been watching them, tracking the networks of terror cells so that their movements reveal the extent of the threat.
The French dropped the ball when they stopped monitoring the movements of the Paris sleeper cell 6 months before the attacks. But they had known of them for years. It is believed that there are at least 20 sleeper cells in Europe waiting to be activated to carry out their attacks, according to CNN:
The official said security agencies in a number of European countries were intensely investigating several groups of returnees from Syria and Iraq, including people back on Belgian soil, who they suspect could be plotting terrorist attacks.
Separately, a Western intelligence source told CNN national correspondent Deborah Feyerick that the threat appears to involve as many as 20 sleeper cells of between 120 and 180 people ready to strike in France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The source said that European Union and Middle East intelligence agencies identified an "imminent threat" to Belgium, and possibly also to the Netherlands.
I'm sure you've heard the adage regarding the foiling of an attack: "We have to get lucky 100% of the time, while the terrorists only have to get lucky once." The stars aligned for the terrorists in Paris. Will they favor the jihadists again soon?