After Belgian authorities killed two suspects overnight and halted an alleged plot to kill police officers, Prime Minister Charles Michel on Friday announced a 12-part plan to "combat terrorism,” including plans to isolate suspects in prisons and revoke the passports of citizens who head to conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.
Michel said the new measures were in the works before Thursday’s events, adding that they would be fast-tracked to Parliament, which is expected to vote on some elements of the bill by mid-February, according to Belgian broadcaster RTBF. Other parts of the plan, such as the preparing of a 150-force military unit to be deployed at elevated threat levels could be put in place immediately, according to Interior Minister Jan Jambon.
“We are determined to strongly fight against radicalism and terrorism,” Michel said. A budget of $346 million set aside as a result of 2014 budget talks will be “primarily utilized for matters of security,” he added.
Per capita, Belgium is believed to be the European nation with the highest number of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria. Its government estimates about 100 nationals have returned with combat experience, and around 170 remain in Syria in the ranks of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. An additional 40 are thought to have been killed the conflict.
Friday's announced measures reflect Belgium’s growing concern over the whereabouts of such nationals — anxiety heightened by last week's attacks in France against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the kosher grocery in eastern Paris.
There are no "concrete and serious" threats currently targeting Belgium, Michel added Friday.
On Thursday, police killed two suspects raiding a house in the eastern town of Verviers. Police found assault rifles, explosives, ammunition and communications equipment, along with police uniforms.
Belgium will also seek the extradition of two Belgian suspects from France, although prosecutors said at a Friday news conference they have found no link between the planned attacks in Belgium and last week's shootings in Paris.
The government’s 12-step plan includes measures to expand its anti-terror laws and widening the authorities’ power to obtain search warrants. Revoking passports and ID cards would be included in the measure — a method also favored by British lawmakers, who adopted the measure in April 2013 to help alert police at border crossings.
With wire services