Belgium terror alert lowered to pre-attack level

Belgium terror alert lowered to pre-attack level

Belgium police
An armed police officer watches during a memorial ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the twin Brussels attacks by Islamic extremists at Brussels' airport in Zaventem on Mar 22, 2017. (Didier Lebrun/POOL/AFP)

BRUSSELS: Belgium lowered its terror threat level on Monday (Jan 22) after three years of high alert that included the Brussels bombings, but soldiers will still guard key sites.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said the OCAM national crisis centre had reduced the level from three to two on a maximum scale of four, with "occasional exceptions".

"The national security council has been informed of the official communication of the lowering of the threat level from three to two," Michel told a news conference.

But Michel said it was "not the same level two as before" the attacks, adding that a new and reinforced security culture was now in place in Belgium.

Michel's spokesman Frederic Cauderlier told AFP that troops who have been on Belgian streets since 2015 would still be stationed outside sensitive sites.

Belgian media said these included nuclear power stations and religious sites such as synagogues.

They would also be deployed at major gatherings, for example sporting events, Cauderlier said.

The threat has been at level three - "probable and likely" - or higher since the smashing of a terror cell in the town of Verviers on January 2015 that was planning an attack on police.

The Verviers cell also had links to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the November 2015 Islamic State attacks on Paris that killed 130 people.

Belgium further raised the terror level to four - signifying a "serious and imminent threat" - after the Paris attack, and placed the capital Brussels on lockdown for a week.

It again raised the threat to four on Mar 22, 23 and 24, 2016, after IS suicide attacks on Brussels airport and a metro station which killed 32 people.

Source: AFP/de