Bomb hoax pranksters could face 2 years’ gaol

The heightened terror alert in Belgium has had its consequences. It has served to make the general public very alert and report anything that might be seen as suspicious. However, it has also provided jokers with the opportunity to cause havoc by making bomb hoax calls.

On Sunday, the premises of Flanders’ biggest commercial broadcaster Medialaan (VTM, 2BE, Q Music…) in the Flemish Brabant town of Vilvoorde were evacuated after police received a call claiming that there was a bomb in the building.

Elsewhere schools (for example in Hoboken, Antwerp on Friday) and railway stations have also been the target of bomb hoax callers. The Minister of the Interior has decided that enough is enough.

Speaking on VRT Radio 1’s morning news and current affairs programme ‘De Ochtend’, the Interior Minister Jan Jambon (Flemish nationalist) said “There are people that are justifiably concerned and we can’t take any risks. However, there are also foolish pranksters and I would like to take the opportunity to say that it is really irresponsible behaviour to use the current situation as the basis for practical jokes.”

Two years in prison

There was a spate of bomb hoaxes in the aftermath of the anti-terrorist operation in Verviers in January of this year. Such hoax calls trigger a whole procedure that includes the evacuation of a building (or buildings) or even a whole are of a town or city.

Those found guilty of having made hoax bomb calls face stiff sentences of as much as two years in prison. They would also probably be liable for the costs incurred as a result of the police operation and evacuation.

“Think before you act” was Mr Jambon’s message. However, this doesn’t mean that the interior minister thinks that in future people should refrain from reporting anything suspicious.

"If there is justified cause for concern then people should report it. “However, misplaced pranks will be punished”, the Interior Minister concluded.