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Broad Anti-Terror Crackdown Covers France, Germany, Belgium


We're following news of a broad anti-terror crackdown in several European countries today. More than two dozen suspected militants have been arrested in France, Belgium and Germany. These arrests, of course, coming soon after last week's terror attacks in Paris. In Belgium last night, security forces killed two suspects they believed were about to launch a terrorist attack against police. The two men had just returned from Syria.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is following developments from Paris. And Eleanor, this does seem to be a broad counterterrorist sweep across Northern Europe.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Yes, very broad, Melissa. This morning, in Paris, police arrested 12 people suspected to be accomplices to the three terrorists who killed 17 people here last week. Police haven't been given details, but they say they've rounded up anyone who could've possibly provided logistical support to these men.

In Belgium, authorities have arrested 13 people in that country and two others in France. They say those arrests were to thwart an imminent attack. And some of Belgian media is reporting that that attack was just hours away. These arrests in Belgium were part of an ongoing investigation, and Belgian officials at this point say that they don't look to be related to the Paris attacks. In Germany, a couple-hundred police raided 12 homes and a mosque. They arrested two people on suspicion of recruiting fighters to go to Syria.

BLOCK: Eleanor, there are varying claims of responsibilities, speculation about groups that may have been behind the French attacks. What more are you learning about that and how much credence are those claims given by authorities in France?

BEARDSLEY: Well, the three attackers last week, they claimed al-Qaida in Yemen and the so-called Islamic State. When I spoke with a terrorism expert today - and he said you have to be very careful about saying who ordered these attacks. And this is what Jean-Charles Brisard said to me. He's an expert on Islamic terrorism.

JEAN-CHARLES BRISARD: With France, the attacks on Paris were mainly carried out by a group of friends who knew each other for more than 10 years before the attacks. And I think that was most powerful within that group than any affiliation to any terrorist group.

BEARDSLEY: Now, Melissa, nothing is really clear at this point. Mr. Brisard also told me that we know that one of the Kouachi brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo, he went to Yemen. But we just found out today that he also travelled to Saudi Arabia in 2008, so nothing is clear right now on who could have sponsored or paid for those attacks.

BLOCK: And, Eleanor, you're there in Paris. Are you seeing visible signs everywhere you go of increased security around the city?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, Melissa, I am. There are soldiers everywhere. You know, things are a lot calmer, but there's still attention. And France has deployed 10,000 soldiers around the country. On my own street, there's a Lubavitch synagogue. It's more like a prayer hall. It doesn't really look like a religious building. But there are two soldiers with automatic weapons out front, and they have been standing there for three days now. It's very jarring to see that on your own street. Jewish schools, mosques, they all have protection now. In Belgium, all the Jewish schools in Brussels and Antwerp have closed out of precaution. People are going about their daily lives, but they're wondering will things ever be really normal again?

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reporting from Paris. Eleanor, thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.