Nazi salutes, anti-immigrant chants disrupt Brussels memorial
BRUSSELS, Belgium — Though organizers postponed a Sunday march in the Belgian capital out of security fears, those who gathered at Brussels’ Place de la Bourse were confronted by protesters raising their arms in Nazi salutes and shouting anti-immigrant slogans.
The gathering, which took place in a commercial district in the capital, started out peacefully with mourners laying flowers at the foot of the stairs leading to the Brussels Stock Exchange.
The mood changed at about 2:45 p.m. when several hundred men — most of them dressed in black, a handful of them with their faces totally or partially obscured, and many of them carrying alcoholic beverages — arrived on the square.
One demonstrator sparked a flare, and others lit firecrackers in the square. One group unfurled a white banner that said “FCK ISIS” and “Casuals Against Terrorism.” It’s unclear if the groups are related, but Casuals United is a British far-right group affiliated with the English Defence League, which opposes the spread of Islam and Sharia law.
The nationalist demonstrators chanted “We are at home,” and there were minor scuffles as some people at the site trampled through the flowers, flags and balloons that make up the memorial for those killed in Tuesday’s terrorist attacks.
Mourners countered the men’s chants with their own: “No to hatred” and “We are all the sons of immigrants.”
Backed by two white tactical vehicles with water cannons aimed at the crowd, phalanxes of riot police responded and methodically formed a horseshoe around the anti-immigrant demonstrators, corralling them and pushing them down a nearby boulevard, away from the memorial.
The crowd on the stock exchange’s steps cheered as the police briefly unleashed the water cannons on the demonstrators.
With Brussels still on edge after Tuesday’s bombings, authorities had requested that a peace march planned for Easter be postponed, organizer Sophie Barthelemi said.
The rally was set to mark the terror attacks that killed 28 people from various nations. (Belgian authorities said Saturday that the widely reported death toll of 31 included the three suicide attackers, putting the victims’ tally at 28.)
Fourteen bodies were recovered at the Brussels Airport and 14 others at the Maelbeek metro station, officials said.
Authorities continued the complex task of unraveling the plot behind Tuesday’s horrific bombings, announcing they had charged one suspect with “terrorist murder.”
Belgium’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office identified the suspect only as “Faycal C,” but authorities didn’t specify what role the person had in the bombings at the airport and a subway station.
In addition to terrorist murder, Faycal C. faces charges of “participation in terrorist activities” and “attempted terrorist murder,” officials said.
No weapons or explosives were found in the person’s home, which was raided by Belgian authorities Thursday, the office said. Further details about Faycal C. were not immediately available.
Police also carried out 13 raids in and around the Belgian capital on Sunday, taking nine people in for questioning, according to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s office.
Five of those questioned were later released after “in-depth interviews,” according to a statement. A magistrate will decided whether to keep the remaining four in custody, the office said.
Arrests have also taken place in other European countries. On Saturday, an Algerian national was taken into custody outside the southern Italian city of Salerno on suspicion of being part of a network producing fake residency documents linked to the Brussels attacks, the Italian National Police said.
The Algerian man was wanted in Belgium for his alleged involvement in clandestine immigration linked to the Paris attacks, police said via Twitter.
More victims identified
Authorities said 24 of the 28 deceased victims have been positively identified: 13 were Belgians, and 11 were foreigners from eight nationalities. More than 300 people were injured.
The death toll also includes Americans Justin and Stephanie Shults, according to Stephanie’s mother, Carolyn Moore.
“They are in heaven,” Moore said.
Searching for suspects
Residents of Brussels were trying, against the odds, to return to some sense of normalcy in the wake of the attacks.
But the task was complicated by the continuing official manhunt, complete with raids, gunfire, explosions and live news conferences.
Authorities are searching for a third man seen in surveillance video with two suicide bombers at the airport shortly before the attacks began. He’s wearing a hat and light-colored clothing, walking alongside ISIS bomb-maker Najim Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui as they rolled luggage carts.
This individual allegedly planted a bomb and left, investigators believe. That bomb didn’t go off immediately, though it did detonate later — by which time authorities were on site and no one was killed or injured.
Also being sought is a man who is seen in surveillance footage holding a large bag at a Brussels metro station before a blast ripped through a train car near the station, according to Belgian public broadcaster RTBF. Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s brother, Khalid, was confirmed killed in that explosion, and it’s possible the unidentified man also died.
Police work to prevent another attack
Officials said Saturday that another man, arrested Friday at a subway station in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels, had not been charged. But a judge has allowed him to be held for another 24 hours, pending investigation.
And a person identified only as “Aboubakar A.” has been arrested and charged with participation in activities of a terrorist group, officials said. They did not say when or where he was arrested.
Investigators know of additional plots in Europe, in various stages of planning, linked to the same networks behind the November attacks in Paris and the latest ones in Brussels, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials.
Those terrorists are tied to ISIS, the Islamist extremist group that has taken over swaths of Syria and Iraq while staging attacks elsewhere around the world.