Mayor of Antwerp a possible target for terror suspects detained on Monday

The Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever (Flemish nationalist) and several police stations were among the possible targets for the radicalised Islamist terror suspectes detained on Monday. The news that Mr De Wever was among the group's possible targets appears in Friday edition of the daily ‘Gazet Van Antwerpen’ and has been confirmed by the Federal Judicial Authorities. Detectives had been following the young adults detained in Antwerp, Brussels and Eupen (Liège Province) for some time as they had reportedly become radicalised very quickly.

On Monday evening the Federal Judicial Police detained 8 people aged between 19 and 35. They are suspected of planning a terrorist attack. One of those detained has been on the terror threat assessment group OCAD's list of potential terrorists since 2020. 

Then the young man from Eupen in Liège Province was sent to a young offenders’ centre after he planned to carry out attacks on police stations. Three other suspects in the investigation have now also been added to the OCAD list. 

On Monday evening properties were searched in  Merksem, Borgerhout, Deurne (all Antwerp) Sint-Jans-Molenbeek (Brussels) and Eupen (Liège Province). 

Radicalised at lightning speed

As well as planning attacks on police stations, the suspects, most of whom had become radicalised at lightning speed, were also possibly planning to kill Bart De Wever. A strict enforcement by the City of Antwerp of the rules on religious and philosophical neutrality which means that council staff that have direct contact with the public are (for example) not allowed to wear headscarves, is reported by some newspapers as the reason why Mr De Wever became “a target”. However, neither the Federal Justice Minister nor the Judicial Authorities will confirm this.

Nevertheless, the Judicial Authorities have confirmed that the Antwerp suspects detained may have been planning to kill Mayor De Wever.

The Federal Judicial Authorities' Spokesman Eric Van der Sypt told VRT News that "Mr De Wever's name did indeed crop up in the Antwerp investigation. However, it is not the case that a date and a time had already been set for an attack to take place."

The Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Flemish liberal) told VRT News that. "We learned a lot from 2016 attacks: a lot of information now is shared and potential suspects  are closely followed on social media."

"The current government has strengthened our security services. For example, we are doubling the number of staff at the State Security Service. They are very active in monitoring suspects' activity on the internet. If there is any indication that they might engage in violence, for example if they have purchased weapons, action is taken straight away," Mr Van Quickenborne told VRT News.

A spokesman for Bart De Wever told VRT News that "This is a matter for the Judicial Authorities and we cannot comment”.

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