BRUSSELS (AP) — Police launched an anti-terror operation in an eastern Belgian city on Thursday, according to news reports and witnesses, who said they heard gunfire and explosions in an area of Verviers near a train station. Some news reports said that at least two people had been killed.
Federal prosecutors and police will hold an emergency news conference, as Belgian authorities were looking into possible links to attacks in neighboring France last week that killed 20 people, including three gunmen who attacked satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a kosher market and police.
Belgian prosecutors and police couldn’t immediately confirm the reports of dead. Witnesses speaking on Belgium’s RTBF radio described a series of explosions followed by rapid fire at the center of Verviers, near a bakery and in the neighborhood of the train station. Video posted online of what appeared to be the raid showed a dark view of a building amid blasts, gunshots and sirens, and a fire with smoke billowing up.
RTBF said two people were killed during the raid in Verviers, a former industrial town with a large immigrant population about 125 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of the capital, Brussels. Flemish broadcaster VRT said two were killed, one injured and one arrested.
Earlier Thursday, Belgian authorities said they are looking into possible links between a man they arrested in the southern city of Charleroi for illegal trade in weapons and Amedy Coulibaly, who prosecutors say killed four people in a Paris kosher market last week.
The man arrested in Belgium “claims that he wanted to buy a car from the wife of Coulibaly,” said federal prosecutor’s spokesman, Eric Van der Sypt. “At this moment this is the only link between what happened in Paris.” Van der Sypt said that “of course, naturally” we are continuing the investigation.
At first the man came to police himself claiming there had been contact with Coulibaly’s common law wife regarding the car, but he was arrested following a search on his premises when enough indications of illegal weapons trade were found.
Van der Sypt stressed there was no established weapons link with the Paris attack at this moment.
Several countries are now involved in the hunt for possible accomplices to Coulibaly and the two other gunmen in the French attacks.