Paris attacks suspect may be in Brussels 'ready to blow up'

UPDATE: ONE of the friends of Salah Abdeslam, suspected of being one of the Paris attackers, reportedly said that he might be equipped with a suicide belt. Hamza Attou, one of two suspects charged this week by the Belgian authorities for allegedly helping Abdeslam return to the country after the Paris attacks, made the suggestion through his lawyer, Carine Couquelet.

"According to my client, Salah was extremely agitated and may be ready to blow himself up," Mrs Couquelet said in an interview with Belgian TV, adding that the three passengers barely talked on the journey back. "My client was very scared. He hasn't told me about any weapons, but of a big jacket, possibly a suicide belt."

Salah Abdeslam could be using an alias and disguise as he remains on the run
Salah Abdeslam could be using an alias and disguise as he remains on the run

The Belgian police issued a special telephone hotline for any information about Abdeslam - with officials believing that he could be in the Brussels area, a scenario that could have sparked the raising of the terror alert level.

Numerous conflicting reports have emerged in recent days over his whereabouts. Two local Belgian newspapers said he had been seen in the Brussels neighbourhood of Anderlecht on Thursday.

Another report said he was in the Saint-Denis apartment where the suspected Paris ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud was, but that he left just before the police raid on the premises on Wednesday morning that killed Abaaoud. French police have released seven of the eight people arrested when they raided the flat.

All football matches in the capital have been cancelled, including the Belgian first division game by Brussels club Anderlecht at Lokeren, in west Flanders.

Although the crisis centre urged all first and second division football games to be cancelled, the Belgian Football Association only called off those involving Brussels.

Other major sporting events, including hockey and handball matches, were also cancelled, while many swimming pools were closed.

Brussels terror threat: Special forces arrest four people

BRUSSELS has raised its terrorism alert to its highest level, suspending its underground and deploying armed security forces to patrol the city.

The government's crisis centre raised the alert to 'Level Four', indicating a "serious and immediate threat", amid a reports that police had found a cache of weapons and ammunition during a raid on an apartment in Molenbeek, the poor suburb of Brussels that was home to the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

In a written statement the office said no explosives or suicide bomb belt had been found in the search. The Belgian paper Dernière Heure reported that chemicals had also been found in a raid in Molenbeek, but this was not confirmed by the prosecutor.

Special forces arrested four people at around 3pm on the Place du Grand Sablon, Belgium media reported.

Earlier, Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel said the terror alert had been raised "based on quite precise information about the risk of an attack like the one that happened in Paris".

He told a news conference on Saturday morning that it was feared "several individuals with arms and explosives could launch an attack ... perhaps even in several places".

"We urge the public not to give in to panic, to stay calm. We have taken the measures that are necessary," he said.

Jan Jambo, Belgium's interior minister, said the country's situation was "serious" but under control.

Around the capital, heavily armed police and soldiers were on patrol at key intersections of the Belgian capital, home to more than one million people and the location for key EU and Nato offices.

The metro system is likely to remain shut until Sunday afternoon when the authorities will review the terror alert.

Shopping centres were also closed.

Residents have been advised to avoid areas where large numbers of people gather, including concerts, major events, train stations and airports, public transit and commercial districts.

By the afternoon the city's main streets appeared deserted.

The government recommended the cancellation of professional soccer games scheduled over the weekend. It also recommended that the 19 communes that make up the Brussels region consider cancelling all other major events due to take place.

A rock concert by the French musician Johnny Hallyday, dues to take place in Brussels, has also been cancelled.

A string of terrorist attacks in recent years have had links to Belgian capital's Molenbeek neighbourhood, just 25-minutes walk from the centre of Brussels.

Meanwhile, a manhunt is under way for Salah Abdeslam, a suspected attacker who escaped and is thought to be in Belgium. French police stopped Abdeslam at the Belgian border the morning after the attacks but then let him go.

ABC News reported the fugitive Abdeslam had been in touch with friends via Skype and mobile phone who had urged him to turn himself in.