Belgian police detained Saturday three people in connection with the bloody terrorist attacks in neighbouring France, for which the Islamic State extremist group claims responsibility.
Investigators were led to the neighbourhood of Molenbeek in the Belgian capital Brussels after a car rented by a French citizen living in Belgium was found near the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, where 89 people were killed, French prosecutor Francois Molins said.
The renter of the car was intercepted at Belgian border control, on board another vehicle along with two other people residing in Brussels, Molins said.
The Belga news agency quoting Belgian prosecutors however reported that three people were taken into custody during the actual raids in Molenbeek, and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told broadcaster RTL that one of these people had been in Paris on Friday night.
Details on the suspects’ identities were not immediately available.
Belgian prosecutors have launched their own terrorism investigation in connection with the attacks in Paris, which have so far left 129 people dead and another 352 injured, 99 of them seriously, Molins told journalists in Paris.
Eight attacks were launched over a timespan of about 30 minutes at the Stade de France national sports stadium, the Bataclan concert hall, and at several restaurants and bars.
Molins said there were three coordinated teams of terrorists, all armed with Kalashnikov rifles and explosive vests fitted with bolts meant to achieve “a maximum of victims.”
At three different locations, hundreds of empty cartridge cases were found after the attacks. Molins spoke of a “a terrorist crime of incredible violence,” while French President Francois Hollande called it an “act of war.”
Seven terrorists were killed during the attacks, with most of them blowing themselves up, Molins said.
The Islamic State terrorist militia, which Saturday claimed responsibility for the attacks and threatened France and its allies with further violence, spoke of eight militants who had specifically targeted Pariss.
Calling the city the capital of “prostitution and vice,” the terrorist group pointing to the fact that foreign planes were “striking Muslims in the land of the caliphate.” France is part of a US-led coalition that is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria.
The Bataclan attackers had mentioned both Syria and Iraq during short negotiations held with them after they took hostages in the concert hall, Molins said.
Investigators in Paris are now working on identifying the assailants.
A Syrian passport belonging to a person born in 1990 was found near the body of a suicide bomber who had targeted the Stade de France. Though investigators have not stated that the passport belonged to the suspect, the Greek Ministry of Civil Protection confirmed that the owner of passport arrived in Europe in October as a refugee.
One of the Bataclan attackers, meanwhile, has been identified as a 29-year-old Frenchman who was known to police for crimes and radicalization, but who had never been jailed and had not been implicated in terrorist networks, Molins said. The man was identified thanks to a fingerprint from his severed finger, he added.
According to the Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure, three of the Paris attackers stemmed from Molenbeek.
There have also been reports in Germany of a 51-year-old Montenegrin who had been stopped in the state of Bavaria on November 5 with a car full of weapons. Speculation was rife that he too may have been connected to the attacks.
French President Francois Hollande vowed that the response to the violence would be fierce, saying “France will be ruthless against the barbarians of Daesh,” using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
The government has already declared a state of emergency, tightened border controls and mobilized 1,500 soldiers. Paris residents continued to be instructed on Saturday to stay home if possible, while large gatherings have been prohibited until Thursday.
French authorities also announced the closure of many public facilities, while hospitals in the city have set emergency plans in action. Disneyland Paris was shut down for the day and Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower was also closed to the public.
The Eurostar cross-Channel train service has offered customers who do not wish to travel from London to Paris “free exchanges” for their tickets.
But international climate talks due to be held in Paris from November 30 will proceed as planned but “with reinforced security measures,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Fabius said he has also ordered security to be reinforced at French diplomatic posts and institutions around the world.