Brussels police clash with far-right mob at attacks shrine

Stand-off with mourners comes as four more people are detained over links to terror networks.

A man gestures as masked and hooded men arrive at a square outside the stock exchange in Brussels on March 27, 2016. Kristof van Accom / Belga / AFP
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Brussels // Belgian riot police fired water cannon to disperse far-right football hooligans who disrupted mourners at a shrine for victims of the Brussels attacks on Sunday, as police arrested several suspects in a series of new raids.

In scenes that compounded a week of grief for Belgians, black-clad protesters shouting anti-immigrant slogans moved in on the makeshift memorial at Place de la Bourse where hundreds of people had gathered in a show of solidarity.

Belgian authorities meanwhile detained four suspects after carrying out 13 raids as they seek to round up a web of extremists with links to the carnage in the Belgian capital and to attacks and plots across the border in France.

The clashes between the far-right demonstrators and police underscored the tensions in Belgium after Tuesday’s ISIL suicide attacks on the airport and the metro system in which 28 people died and 340 were wounded.

“This is our home” and “The state, Daesh accomplice” around 200 hooligans chanted as they gathered near the square by the stock exchange building, which has been covered in flowers, candles and messages by mourners.

Police urged the mourners not to provoke the hooligans, but some joined in chanting “Fascists! Fascists! We’re not having it!”

Riot police with helmets and shields corralled the hooligans before dispersing them with high power water jets, and marshalling them on to trains out of the city.

About 10 people were arrested, police said.

The mourners gathered even though organisers had earlier called off a “March Against Fear” in Brussels on Sunday at the request of Belgian authorities, who said police needed the resources for the attacks investigation.

As Belgium struggles to come to terms with the tragedy, recriminations continue over whether the authorities could and should have done more to prevent the carnage, as the links to ISIL’s November 13 attacks in Paris grow clearer by the day.

Police carried out 13 raids across Brussels and the towns of Duffel and Mechelen to the north on Sunday, the federal prosecutor said, questioning nine people and holding four for further inquiries.

A magistrate will decide later whether they will be put in preventive detention.

In the latest piece in the puzzle of the extremist networks straddling France and Belgium, prosecutors said they had charged a second man with involvement in a terror group over a foiled plot to strike France.

The suspect, Abderamane A, was the second person to be charged in as many days in connection with Thursday’s arrest of a man near Paris who had assault weapons and explosives in his flat.

Meanwhile, the Belgian Crisis Centre said 28 people had died in the airport and metro attacks, down from an initial toll of 31 which had included the three suicide bombers.

Of the 28 who died, 24 have been identified, among them 13 Belgians and 11 foreign nationals, it said. A total 340 people from 19 countries were wounded, of whom 101 remain in hospital – 62 of them in intensive care.

On Saturday, a man widely thought to be the fugitive third bomber from the airport was charged in Brussels with terrorist murder and participation in a terrorist group.

He was the first suspect to be formally charged over Tuesday’s attacks. A source close to the inquiry gave his name as Faycal Cheffou.

* Agence France-Presse