Just one day after a terrorist attack on the British Parliament building, police in Belgium have succeeded in thwarting what appears to be a similar attack on a busy shopping area of Antwerp. Officials say that one person has been detained after attempting to drive his car into a busy shopping street at high speed in an apparent copy cat style attempt at killing civilians.
In a statement, Antwerp police chief Serge Muyters told a news conference. “A vehicle with French plates has tried to drive at high speed into the Meir [shopping street] so that pedestrians had to jump aside. Our army colleagues forced the driver to stop but he pulled away and ran a red traffic light. We sent a special forces team and the car and the driver were stopped. A man in camouflage was taken away.”
The car was later intercepted at nearby port docks, according to the federal prosecutor’s office. Officials said that after the car was stopped, a search resulted in the confiscation of several knives, a gun, and a gas can with an unknown liquid in the car. “Additional arms were found in the boot, bladed weapons, a pump-action rifle and a container of as yet unidentified liquid. Because of these elements, and the events in London yesterday, the case is being taken on by the federal prosecutor’s office,” the statement added.
The suspect that was taken into custody has been identified as 39-year-old Mohamed R., a French national who resides in France. The man is believed to be of North African descent and is believed to be a radicalized Muslim, according local media reports. Those reports were confirmed by French President Francois Hollande who said in a statement that the incident appears to involve a French national.
President Hollnde added: “It seemed to involve a French national, with possibly a certain number of weapons in his boot – it’s up to the judges to make a statement on that – who was looking to kill or at the very least create a dramatic incident. Therefore we must continue to be on high alert and mobilize all our forces.”
Police set up a perimeter around the area and a bomb squad has been deployed. As a precaution, additional officers and military personnel have been deployed throughout the city. Officals said the Meir area is the main shopping street in Antwerp’s historic center, and is mostly pedestrianized. It is one of Belgium’s biggest shopping areas.
Today’s incident comes just one day after the first anniversary of the Brussels bombings, which led to the deaths of 32 people at Brussels airport and Maalbeek metro station. More than 300 others were injured.