UPDATE, SUNDAY AM: Brussels remained on high alert Sunday as Belgium widened its search for Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects in the Paris terror attacks of November 13. Officials said today that they believe more than one militant is at large. “We’re talking about several suspects, this is why we have put in place such a concentrated effort. We are following the situation minute by minute,” Interior Minister Jan Jambon told broadcaster VRT. “There is no sense in hiding the information. The threat is real, but we are doing everything day and night to deal with the situation.”
On Saturday cinemas, museums, concert venues and other gathering places were shut at the urging of authorities. Today, major exhibitor Kinepolis said its Brussels cinemas would remain shut through the day. The UGC De Brouckère multiplex also remains closed for the day, according to its Facebook page. The city’s metro system is still halted, but may open tomorrow. This afternoon local time, a bomb scare forced the evacuation of the Malines train station near Antwerp, although it was revealed to be a false alert, Le Soir reported.
PREVIOUS, SATURDAY PM: Brussels is in a virtual lockdown because of fears of a brutal attack in the wake of last week’s coordinated Paris assault that left 130 dead and 352 injured. Cinemas, museums, metro stations, sports centers, bars, music venues and shops — indeed most places where people tend to gather — have been closed most of Saturday.
Heavily armed soldiers and police patrolled the Belgian capital after the government raised the terror threat to its highest level, four. The city is expected to remain under lockdown until at least Sunday afternoon, when the government will reassess the situation. The rest of Belgium was at level three.
“The result of relatively precise information pointed to the risk of an attack along the lines of what took take place in Paris,” Prime Minister Charles Michel told a news conference after a meeting of the national security council. “We are talking about the threat that several individuals with arms and explosives would launch an attack perhaps in several locations at the same time.”
The notice, right, at one UGC cinema in Brussels reads, roughly, “Hello. The warning of a high level of threat today has forced the temporary closure of our cinema. We will keep you informed through the usual information channels of the re-opening of our auditoriums. Thank you for your understanding. Management.”
In Antwerp, a Kinepolis multiplex was cleared after a technical glitch in the cinema control systems triggered an alarm in a single auditorium that resulted in customers in multiple locations in the theater heading for the exits. Given the jittery state of affairs, the cinema decided to cancel all late night screenings.
Major shopping centers and stores initially opened Saturday morning in Brussels with soldiers maintaining a high profile, but around noon many businesses began closing and lowering metal barriers.
The situation in Brussels heightened tensions across Europe. “The impact of our decision is enormous,” Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said. “But if something were to happen, the impact would be even bigger.”
The hunt for one of the Paris attackers, Salah Abdeslam, continued. The 26-year-old French national lived in Brussels and is believed to have slipped back into the city of 1.2 million after the Paris attacks, in which his elder brother Brahim blew himself up. Belgium, and Brussels in particular, has been a focus of investigations into those attacks.