French, German, Belgian and Irish police arrested more than two dozen suspects in anti-terrorism raids Friday, as European authorities rushed to thwart more attacks by people with links to Mideast Islamic extremists.
Rob Wainwright, head of the police agency Europol, told The Associated Press that foiling terror attacks has become “extremely difficult” because Europe’s 2,500-5,000 radicalized Muslim extremists have little command structures and are increasingly sophisticated.
Highlighting those fears, a bomb scare forced Paris to evacuate its busy Gare de l’Est train station during Friday morning rush hour. No bomb was found. A man also briefly took two hostages at a post office northwest of Paris, but police said the hostage-taker had mental issues and no links to terror.
Visiting the tense French capital, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met President Francois Hollande and toured the sites of last week’s terror attacks: the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. Twenty people, including the three gunmen, were killed.
One of those Paris attackers had proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State group, and French and German authorities arrested at least 14 other people Friday suspected of links to IS.
Thirteen more people were detained in Belgium and two were arrested in France in a separate anti-terror sweep following a firefight Thursday in the eastern Belgian city of Verviers. Two suspected terrorists were killed and a third wounded in that raid on a suspected terrorist hideout. Federal magistrate Eric Van der Sypt said Friday the suspects were within hours of implementing a plan to kill police.
In Ireland, police arrested a suspected French-Algerian militant at Dublin Airport as he tried to enter the country using a false passport. The man, who was being interrogated, landed on a European watch list after expressing support in social media for last week’s attacks, authorities said.
In more than a dozen raids Friday, Belgian forces found four military-style weapons including Kalashnikov assault rifles and several police uniforms, Van der Sypt said. Belgian officials were reasonably confident they dismantled the core of an important terrorist cell but the magistrate said more suspects could be at large.
“I cannot confirm that we arrested everyone in this group,” he told reporters.
Authorities said most of those detained or killed in Belgium were citizens and some had returned from Syria. They stressed that the targets of their crackdown had no known connections to last week’s attacks in France.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Friday that while there was no apparent operational connection between the two terror groups, “the link that exists is the will to attack our values.”
Peter Neumann of the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization estimated that 450 people have left Belgium to fight with Islamic radicals in Syria and that 150 of them have returned home.
Around the world, protesters rallied against Charlie Hebdo in several countries Friday. The satirical newspaper had 12 employees slain last week for lampooning the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, but defiantly put a new Muhammad cartoon on the cover of its weekly issue this week. The issue sold out its 3 million copies — more than 50 times its usual press run.
In Karachi, Pakistani students clashed with police and an Agence France-Presse photographer was shot and wounded in the melee. In Algeria, demonstrators protesting Charlie Hebdo faced off against riot police in the streets of Algiers, the capital.