Brussels installs memorial to mark attack anniversary

A Belgian artist is installing a metal sculpture shaped like rising waves near the seat of the European Union to honor the victims of the militant attacks on Brussels a year ago that killed 32 people and wounded hundreds.

On March 22, 2016, three Islamic State suicide bombers targeted Brussels airport and a metro train in the capital, the deadliest such attack in Belgian history. It followed coordinated attacks on Paris four months earlier that killed 130 people and sent shockwaves across Europe and beyond.

The sculpture by Jean-Henri Compere is called "Wounded But Still Standing in Front of the Inconceivable" and is constructed from two 20-metre (66 feet) long horizontal surfaces rising skywards.

"Well, it means we've been wounded down to the ground, but we have to stand up and say 'no' to those acts that are not believable, that are not bearable," Compere told Reuters at the memorial site.

Compere said the sculpture could also symbolize two plane wings, or a subway train.

"It's a piece that should stay in the city," he said. "I want that the sculpture lives with the city, that it takes on its sheen, that it gets through the years, because time helps us build ourselves back up."

The memorial will be unveiled on March 22, exactly one year after the attacks.

"I like the fact that it's supposed to visualize the strength of the city and the resilience of the city," said U.S. citizen Evan Lamps, 31, who works in Brussels.

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Moscow summons Belgian ambassador, presents data on F-16s bombing of Syrian civilians

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it has presented Alex Van Meeuwen, Belgium’s ambassador in Moscow, with evidence proving the involvement of Belgian Air Force jets in a recent airstrike on a Syrian village that killed four civilians.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Van Meeuwen on Friday.

“During the conversation with Van Meeuwen, First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov said that Moscow was puzzled by Belgium’s ongoing denial of the fact that the Belgian Air Force carried out an airstrike that killed civilians on the outskirts of Aleppo on October 18 of this year,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“The Belgian diplomat [Van Meeuwen] was presented with evidence showing involvement of the Belgian Air Force in the airstrike on the village of Hassadjek. It was also mentioned that detailed info on the technical aspects of the flight of the two F-16 jets had been given to Belgium’s military attaché in Moscow by the Russian Ministry of Defense.”

 
"This [Friday] afternoon, the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense handed over to the Defense Attaché of the Belgian Embassy in Moscow the alleged evidence designed to show that F-16 jets of the Belgian Air Force are responsible for the airstrike near Aleppo in the early hours of October 18, which resulted in several deaths among civilians. This alleged evidence is a map with the route of the flight allegedly made by Belgian aircraft," a communique posted on the Belgian Ministry of Defense website said.

"The numbers of the identification friend-or-foe system, which are marked on the map and which, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, are assigned to the Belgian aircraft, are incorrect and in no way are the numbers of the Belgian Air Force aircraft," the document says.

Brussels is using “worthless excuses” in an attempt to divert public attention from the airstrike on the Syrian village, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Friday.

"Attempts by the Belgian Defense Minister [Steven Vandeput] to divert public attention from the tragedy, using obviously worthless excuses, causes profound confusion. It speaks of either Mr Vandeput’s misunderstanding of the document provided by Russia, or the desire of the US Armed Forces Central Command, responsible for providing targeting data to aircraft of the international coalition in Syria, to evade responsibility for the death of six Syrian civilians, killed in the airstrike,” Konashenkov told journalists.

Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Didier Vanderhasselt told Interfax on Friday the ministry is not yet aware of the content of its ambassador’s conversation with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, and is waiting for the results of the meeting. “We maintain dialogue with the Russian side, we need to know exactly what was said at this meeting,” he added.

"We are also surprised by the fact that we have not been provided with the data before," Vanderhasselt is cited as saying by Interfax. "Our military gave all the explanations to the military attaché of the Russian Embassy in Belgium yesterday [Thursday] morning," he added.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman General Igor Konashenkov said on Thursday that Brussels’ obstinate denial of involvement shows that Belgian Defense Minister Steven Vandeput is either “deliberately deceiving people in Belgium and around the world, or his subordinates and the Americans are lying to the leadership of Belgium.”

The airstrike on the village of Hassadjek in Syria’s Aleppo province reportedly killed six civilians on Tuesday.

According to Konashenkov, the two Belgian F-16s were immediately identified by Russian and Syrian air defense radar and all of their movements were tracked.

“Every aircraft type has a unique identifiable signature,” he noted.

The warplanes, which had flown in from the Muwaffaq Salti Airbase in Jordan, delivered their night strike on the village at 00:35 GMT, about two hours after takeoff, leaving six civilians dead and four injured, the general said. Russia tracked the flight of the two planes from Jordan to Iraq and Syria, as well as their meeting with a US KC-135 tanker, which refueled them over the Deir ez-Zor area, Konashenkov said, adding that the US-led coalition hadn’t informed Russia about the Belgian flights.

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Radar data proves Belgian F-16s attacked village near Aleppo, killing 6 - Russia

Russia insists two Belgium warplanes flying from an Air Force base in Jordan attacked a village in Syria, citing radar data. Belgium denies conducting any airstrikes.

Brussels’ continued denial of the jets movements in the area is Belgian Defense Minister Steven Vandeput “deliberately deceiving people in Belgium and elsewhere in the world, or his subordinates and the Americans are lying to the leadership of Belgium,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman General Igor Konashenkov said.

An airstrike on the village of Hassadjek in Aleppo province reportedly killed six civilians on Tuesday. Russia has now reiterated its accusations against Belgium, saying data from Russian and Syrian radar stations confirm it.

“Detailed information about the operation of the Belgian F-16s in Syrian sky will be delivered to the Belgian side through diplomatic and military channels,” Konashenkov said.

The two Belgian F-16 jets accused of the attack flew from the Muwaffaq Salti Airbase in Jordan, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman General Igor Konashenkov said, adding that they were immediately identified.

“Every aircraft type has a unique identifiable signature,” he said.

The Belgian warplanes delivered their night strike at the village at 00:35 GMT, about two hours after take-off, the general said. The attack left six civilians killed and four others injured. Russia tracked the flight of the two planes from Jordan to Iraq and Syria, as well as their encounter with a US KC-135 tanker, which refueled them over the Deir ez-Zor area, Konashenkov said.

Another refueling happened almost an hour after the village attack, he said. The Belgian planes continued patrolling around the city of Azaz in northwestern Syria and then flew towards Iraq, leaving Syrian airspace at 04:25 GMT, he added.

The US-led coalition never informed Russia of the Belgian sorties, Konashenkov said, which goes against the usual practice.

“I’d like to stress that this was not the first time when the international coalition conducted airstrikes against civilian targets and later denied responsibility for them,” he said. “Coalition warplanes have hit weddings, funerals, hospitals, police stations, humanitarian convoys and even Syrian troops fighting Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] terrorists.”

All the movements were detected by the Russian and Syrian air defense radars.

“Russia has effective air defense measures capable of round-the-clock monitoring of the sky above almost all of Syria. In addition to ours, the airspace is also controlled by Syrian air defenses, which have been restored during the past year,” Konashenkov said.

Radar data proves Belgian F16s attacked village near #Aleppo

Responding to the new accusations, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel reiterated the denial of his country’s involvement in the bombing.

“Judging by the information from the Defense Ministry, we have nothing to do with it. Of course the parliament will be informed of the role played by our military in the region in the hours or days to come,” he said before an EU summit in Brussels.

Belgium earlier denied Russia’s accusations, saying none of its six warplanes contributing to the US-led coalition had flown over the region. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to Brussels to voice its protest.

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‘Attacking terrorists in Aleppo is only way to protect civilians’ – Assad

Syrian government forces must clear Aleppo of Islamist militants still controlling the eastern part of the embattled city as this is the only way to protect civilians there, President Bashar Assad has said.

"How can you protect them [civilians] while they are under the control of terrorists? They've been killed by them, and they've been controlled fully by the terrorists,” Assad told Swiss broadcaster SRF in a 20-minute “censorship-free” interview on Tuesday. 

“Is it our role to sit aside and watch if that's how we can protect the Syrian people? We need to attack the terrorists. That's self-evident," the Syrian leader said, responding to a question from SRF reporter Sandro Brotz, who confronted him with the widely-shared photo of an ash-covered child allegedly pulled from the rubble in Aleppo.

The interview came as Syrian government forces attempt to retake eastern Aleppo, currently held by Al-Nusra Front militants. Up to 250,000 civilians are believed to be in the area, without access to food, water and sanitation, while aid agencies warn of a looming humanitarian disaster.

Assad added that the government’s steps to liberate the city from Islamists falls completely within Syrian law.

“That's our mission, according to the constitution, according to the law, that we have to protect people, that we have to get rid of those terrorists from Aleppo. This is where we can protect the civilians," he said.

Earlier, Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said that the ‘moderate’ opposition forces fighting alongside Al-Nusra Front in eastern Aleppo must distance themselves from the Islamists. If they can do that, Al-Nusra militants will then be offered an opportunity to retreat from the city or face defeat.

Aleppo, once a large city with booming businesses and tourism, is now among the worst-hit places in war-torn Syria. Supported by Russian aircraft, government forces liberated western Aleppo earlier this year, but the battle for this important city is far from over.

Whereas some Western countries publicly accuse Damascus and Moscow of ‘war crimes’ in Aleppo, the Syrian government suspects that Islamists have deliberately banned civilians from leaving the eastern part of the city, effectively using them as human shields.

In the city’s western half, the situation is no better. People living close to the frontline are under indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire, with shells severely injuring children and adults.

Earlier this month, RT visited several Aleppo hospitals which remain overcrowded but lack medical personnel and adequate medicine. Some locals, including children, have lost their arms and legs in the shelling or have had them amputated, while efficient painkillers are not available to everyone.

@RT_America Covert strikes on Assad back on US table to prevent ‘fall of Aleppo’ – report http://on.rt.com/7r2g

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On Tuesday, the Russian and Syrian Air Forces said they will cease operations for 48 hours to let civilians pass through the division line safely, and also pave the way for aid deliveries. This did not change the situation on the ground much, however, RT’s Murad Gazdiev reported from Aleppo hours after the statement was made.

“Syrian and Russian jets have been absent from Aleppo skies for many hours now. But there has been no lull in the fighting – fighting continues, shelling continues – of rebel-held areas, of government-held areas. The death toll is climbing every day; it’s big,” he said.

Later on the same day, two Belgian F-16s reportedly delivered an airstrike on the village of Hassadjek in Aleppo province, killing at least six people and injuring four, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

On Wednesday, Belgian Defense Minister Steven Vandeput rejected the claim, saying its fighter jets were not operating in the area.

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Police capture man who held 15 hostage in Belgian supermarket

The armed attacker, who took people hostage in a supermarket in the Forest suburb of Brussels, has given himself up to the police, authorities have confirmed.

Eyewitnesses told local channel VRT that the hostage-taking unfolded at about 7 p.m. local time, in a Carrefour chain store, after what they claimed was a robbery attempt gone wrong. Those who managed to leave the supermarket said the suspect was armed with a knife, and forced shoppers to lie down on the floor.

The area was quickly sealed off, and a special team, supported by a helicopter, was sent to disarm the suspect.

Within minutes, the man, who appeared to have issued no demands, was apprehended.

While there has been no suggestion that the hostage-taking was a terrorist attack, police and residents in the Belgian capital have been on high alert over potential incidents in public places, following a deadly airport and train station bombing in the city in March this year.

At dawn on Tuesday, security forces raided 15 houses across the country, taking four men into custody, who now face charges of abetting radical Islamist organizations.

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Cuban Symphony Orchestra and Belgian Pianist to Perform Mozart

Havana, Oct 12 (Prensa Latina) The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba and the Belgian pianist, Roberte Mamou, will offer a concert on October 16, during which will perform famous musical pieces by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the National Symphony Orchestra announced today.

The influence of the genius of Salzburg, author of more than 600 pieces, is perceptible in the five continents, and Cuban musicians pay tribute to him each year by performing a festival that takes place in this capital.

The Festival Mozart-Habana 2016 will take place from October 15 to 23 in several concert halls and will participate musicians from France, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands and United States, among others.

The concert will take place at the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theater. Selections of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute will be performed that day with the collaboration of soloists and the chorus of the Lyric Theater of Cuba.

In addition, the orchestra under the conduction of maestro Enrique Pérez Mesa, will play Mozart's brilliant Piano Concerto No.12 in A major, K.414, accompanied by the Belgian pianist Roberte Mamou, who was invited to the event organized by the Mozart Lyceum of Havana.

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Terrorists behind Paris & Brussels attacks got over €50K in welfare - report

At least five terrorists involved in the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks were receiving welfare benefits from the state, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing local authorities.

Belgian financial investigators looking into the terrorist attacks found that Salah Abdeslam, charged with taking part in the Paris assaults, had collected €19,000 ($21,000) in welfare payments, which were stopped just a few weeks before the attacks were carried out in the French capital in November, WSJ reports.  

However, Abdeslam should not have been receiving payments as he partly owned a bar, which he was managing at the time. Belgian officials say this made him ineligible for welfare. 

In total, the authorities say that five terrorists who took part in the Paris and Brussels attacks were able to claim a total of over €50,000 ($56,000).

Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told the Wall Street Journal that something needs to be done to address issues with the welfare system, adding that it is accepted that “the benefits system is vulnerable to abuse for terrorist financing purposes.” 

He said that the authorities could perhaps look at different ways of handing out benefits, such as the use of vouchers. 

“If you’re paying benefit to people in certain parts of Brussels, maybe you need to be a little more observant about who you’re paying to, and what they might be doing with it,” he told the newspaper. 

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has previously encouraged its followers to tap into the European benefits system. In a 2015 booklet, it suggested that “if you can claim extra benefits from a government, then do so.” 

Meanwhile, the Belgian government has identified student-loan fraud and insurance scams as ways that jihadists could raise financial capital in the West. 

Philippe de Koster, director of Belgium’s Financial Intelligence Processing Unit, said that better coordination was needed between security and welfare officers to try and stop those suspected of terrorism from receiving welfare payments. However, the law in Belgium currently only allows benefit payments to be cut once a person is convicted of terrorism. 

De Koster says there is no evidence that the terrorists used this welfare money to finance their attacks, but he does accept that it helped them with their “livelihoods” and “indirect support for their terrorist activities,” the Wall Street Journal reported. 

Checks in Belgium on people receiving benefits have become significantly more stringent since the Brussels attacks in March. A month later, the National Employment Office found that 14 people jailed in Belgium under terrorism charges had been receiving welfare while they were behind bars. 

The Belgian prime minister’s spokesman, Fred Cauderlier, has since confirmed that the law has been changed to make sure that people convicted of terrorist offenses will not receive benefits payments while in jail.

 
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Terror suspect with salt & cookie-filled vest arrested in Brussels

A suspect who was arrested following a bomb alert in a Brussels shopping mall was wearing a fake explosive belt filled with salt and cookies, authorities said. Soon after, two metro stations were said to have been evacuated.

The incident happened at the City2 Shopping Mall in the heart of the Belgian capital, local media said, adding that it was a bomb alert. The area was cordoned off and emergency services along with sappers arrived at the scene.

The police were notified at 5.30am “of a suspicious situation," said Ilse Van de Keere, spokeswoman for the Brussels-Ixelles police. "A security perimeter was established and the SEDEE unit [Belgian armed forces] is at the site. The operations are still ongoing.”

Traffic at the nearby Jardin Botanique Boulevard was blocked as well as at Rogier metro station.

Initially, a spokeswoman for the Brussels prosecutor said the man “arrested at 5.30 this morning” was “possibly in possession of explosives.”

However, later RTL prosecutors said sappers found no explosives in the building and the belt turned out to be a fake.

The Belgian security source confirmed to Reuters that no explosives were found on the suspect. Similar information appeared in the Flemish-language VTM Nieuws newspaper.

While DH cited sources claiming the ‘terror incident’ was a joke. The 26-year-old man apparently made a fake ‘explosive belt’ filled with salt. He then called police flagging up a “terror alert.”

Document : voici la fausse ceinture explosive du

 
The man initially claimed that he was kidnapped and had to wear an explosive device that could be detonated remotely.

He said he was abducted by unknown people in a car that could be found in Shaerbeek area of Brussels. The car was later located by police.
 
 
 

According to RTL sources, the suspect may have mental health problems. The SEDEE unit found no explosives in his belt.

The man was known to Belgian authorities for various offenses, prosecutors said, as cited by Belgium’s VTM news.

“In 2014, he was involved in a case of the federal prosecutor. He has recently namely contacted the police and stated that he joined the terror group Islamic State in Syria."

Schuman, De Brouckere stations evacuated

Soon after that, Schuman and De Brouckere stations in the Belgian capital were evacuated, locals reported on Twitter. Schuman serves the European quarter of Brussels and is located near EU buildings.

After a meeting of the National Security Council, Michel told journalists “the situation is currently under control.” He added that security services “remain extremely vigilant.”

Brussels has been on high alert since twin suicide bombings hit Zaventem Airport and Maelbeek metro station on March 22. The station is near the buildings of the EU Commission and the Council of the European Union, as well as NATO’s headquarters.

Earlier in June, reports emerged that Belgium’s capital may once again see terror attacks beginning this month. Extremists may target schools, hospitals and public places, where people gather for Euro-2016 related events, during the Islamic Ramadan holiday.

READ MORE: 3 Belgians charged with attempting to commit terror acts after overnight raids

Numerous raids have been conducted in the mainly Muslim Molenbeek area of Brussels, which is often referred to as an “Islamist hotspot.” Many of the suspects involved in the Paris attacks grew up and lived in Molenbeek, including terror mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Abdeslam brothers, and Mohamed Abrini, who was also involved in the Brussels attacks. 

On Friday, at least 12 people were arrested during anti-terrorist operations across Belgium on suspicion of plotting attacks. Three of the suspects have been charged with attempting to commit terrorist acts, while nine were released.

Reports surfaced that a detained suspect worked at Zaventem Airport and had previously contacted one of the Brussels’ suicide bombers.

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