BRUSSELS — Two people are dead after Belgian counter-terrorist police raided an apartment containing suspected Islamist jihadists on Thursday, according to reports. Officials say the alleged terrorists had just returned from Syria and were close to launching "large-scale" attacks in the vein of the Paris attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Judiciary officials confirmed the counter-terrorism operation took place near Verviers, a town in the east of the country between the city of Liegeand the German border. When police arrived at the apartment, the suspects fired at them with assault weapons.
"The suspects immediately and for several minutes opened fire with military weaponry and handguns on the special units of the federal police before they were neutralized," Prosecutor Eric Van de Sypt told reporters at a press conference.
Fortunately, no police officers were killed during the raid, local radio RTBF reported. Two unidentified people were killed and a third was seriously wounded. Several others were detained.
Prosecutors said they had detained a man in Belgium whom they suspected of supplying weaponry to Amedy Coulibaly, killer of four people at a Paris Jewish grocery last week.
In a report that could not be immediately confirmed, the Web site of La Meuse newspaper quoted an unidentified police officer saying: "We've averted a Belgian Charlie Hebdo."
Cherif and Said Kouachi, who like Coulibaly claimed allegiance to Islamists militants in the Middle East, killed 12 people last Wednesday at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo. In subsequent hostage situations five others were also slain.
Belgium has seen significant radical Islamist activity among its Muslim population. RTBF said police raids were also under way in Brussels.
The threat level in the country has been raised to three, which is the second-highest level in Belgium, Van de Sypt said.