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Belgian Government Warns of ‘Imminent Threat’ in Brussels

The government has raised its terror alert to the highest level based on intelligence that the capital is at risk for an attack "like the one that happened in Paris."

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - NOVEMBER 21: Belgian security forces patrol on the streets as the Belgian authorities raised the terror alert to the level 4, highest level warning of an "imminent threat", in Brussels, Belgium on November 21, 2015. Authorities warn the people keeping away from crowded areas as well as subway stations temporarily restricted for entrance. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - NOVEMBER 21: Belgian security forces patrol on the streets as the Belgian authorities raised the terror alert to the level 4, highest level warning of an "imminent threat", in Brussels, Belgium on November 21, 2015. Authorities warn the people keeping away from crowded areas as well as subway stations temporarily restricted for entrance. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Brussels residents woke up Saturday to shuttered metro stations and warnings to stay away from crowded areas as the government announced it was raising its terror alert status to the highest level based on “a serious and imminent threat.”

The announcement came a week after coordinated attacks in Paris killed 130 people, and a day after an assault on a hotel in Bamako, Mali, killed at least 19.

The government raised the alert level after an emergency Cabinet meeting Saturday morning, saying it had intelligence that Brussels was at risk for an attack “like the one that happened in Paris,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said in a news conference. Tweets from people in Brussels showed scenes Saturday morning of armed soldiers patrolling malls, metro stations — even the Manneken Pis, the capital’s famous fountain of a small boy urinating.

Since the Paris attacks, European officials have focused on the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek as a sort of staging ground for Islamist extremism in Europe. Several of the suspects involved in last Friday’s attacks had links to Molenbeek, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the so-called mastermind behind the violence.

Saturday’s increased threat alert came as a manhunt continued for Salah Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French citizen who is wanted in connection with the Paris rampage and has so far eluded authorities, but was believed to potentially be hiding in Belgium. By Monday, 21 people had been arrested in raids across the country over the weekend, but that Abdeslam was not believed to be among them.

The capital remained in lockdown through Sunday and the terror alert was scheduled remain in place through Monday afternoon, with Belgian officials saying that the city was still under threat. The government said it would reassess the alert on Monday.

In France, crowds gathered at the sites of the attacks on Friday evening to stage vigils in memory of those who lost their lives a week ago. British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande are scheduled to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss the fight against the Islamic State; Hollande will also visit Washington and Moscow next week.

This post has been updated.

Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon. Twitter: @APQW
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