LONDON: The UK government raised the terror threat level in Northern Ireland to “severe” on Tuesday, ahead of an expected visit by US President Joe Biden to mark the 25th anniversary of a landmark peace accord.

The domestic spy agency MI5 judged that the risk of an attack had gone from “substantial” to “severe”, meaning an incident is judged “highly likely”, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said.

Heaton-Harris, who insisted there would be “no return to the violence of the past”, drew no link to the planned trip by Biden. The US leader intends to visit both Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is expected to coincide with the anniversary of the peace deal, which was brokered with US mediation.

Arrest in ‘terrorist attacks’ probe

On Tuesday, Police have detained eight people during investigations into an alleged jihadist plot to commit “terrorist attacks” in Belgium, authorities said.

Raids were conducted late Monday on homes in the capital Brussels, the port city of Antwerp and the border town of Eupen, the federal prosecutor’s office said.

A judicial source said arrested were “very young radicalised people” suspected of belonging to a jihadist movement. The prosecutor’s statement cited two inquiries, one led by federal police in Brussels and the other by an investigating magistrate in Antwerp.

Both led to house raids on Monday, and the statement said: “There are links between the two files, but further research will have to show to what extent the two groups were intertwined.” The Antwerp inquiry led to five arrests, including one in Eupen, near the German border, and the Brussels probe led to three arrests.

The statement said at least five of those detained were suspected of planning to “commit a terrorist attack in Belgium”.

In both cases the suspects have been detained but not yet charged.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2023

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