Europe is in a jittery mood, with good reason.
Two suspected jihadi terrorists were shot dead Thursday in a police gun battle in eastern Belgium, and German police arrested two men in Berlin on suspicion of recruiting and raising money for the Islamic State.
The events capped a tense week following the Paris attacks that led to the arrest of a terror suspect in Wolfsburg, Germany, and the death of an Eritrean refugee in Dresden on a night when 25,000 people turned out in the center of the eastern German city to protest immigration.
On Thursday evening, Belgian police shot and killed two men in the town of Verviers in a bloody gun battle lasting several minutes before stunned commuters during evening rush hour.
Federal prosecutor Eric Van Der Sypt said a major terrorist attack, on a scale of the one in Paris, had been averted. Police also raided buildings in Brussels and nearby towns.
“The group was on the point of committing a major, imminent attack in Belgium,” Mr. Van Der Sypt said. The two men were killed as they fired on security forces who had raided their apartment above a bakery near the German border. A third man was arrested. All three men were Belgian citizens and were believed to be part of a jihadist group that had recently returned from Syria.
Belgium’s terror threat has now been raised to the second highest level and Belgian media reports that some Jewish schools in Brussels and Antwerp were closed on Friday amid warnings of potential attacks. The Jewish community in Belgium has been wary since a gunman killed four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels last year.
The suspect in those killings, a French national who had fought in Syria, is still being held in custody over the attack.
Police said they did not yet believe there was any connection between the men killed in Belgium and the attacks in Paris, but are exploring the possibility that a suspected arms dealer arrested in Charleroi had connections with Amedy Cloulibaly, the man who shot a policewoman and four hostages at a kosher deli in Paris last week.
In Berlin, two men were arrested early Friday on suspicion of recruiting fighters and fundraising for the Islamic State in Syria. The men were arrested in the multicultural Berlin district of Wedding, close to the As-Sahaba mosque, which has been placed on a watchlist by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.
The arrests were part of a series of raids by German police at 11 residences in the German capital on Thursday. Police said they decided to act after tracking a small group of suspected extremists for months. One of the men arrested is accused of organizing a group of mainly Turkish nationals and Russians of Chechen descent to fight in Syria. The other is charged with organizing their finances.
Berlin police were still seeking three other men.
Police said there was no evidence the group was planning an attack inside Germany. On Thursday, the German attorney general said a German-Tunisian man was arrested in Wolfsburg, the home of Volkswagen, suspected of joining IS after three months in Syria.
A few days earlier, on Saturday, police had arrested another suspect in the town on Dinslaken in northwest Germany under similar charges.
On Wednesday, Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziére, announced details of a new identity card that would be issued to suspected jihadists that would stop them from legally traveling abroad. The government estimates that around 600 Islamists have left Germany for Syria and Iraq, and most of them chose to travel through Turkey.
Joining a foreign terrorist organization is a criminal offence under German law.
The raids are likely to raise tensions in many cities and many fear it will inflame anti-Muslim sentiment.
In Dresden, the city at the heart of the Pegida movement, police launched a murder investigation after a 20 year old refugee from Eritrea was found dead near his apartment block on Monday night, the same evening that some 25,000 people had joined a Pegida march in the city. Police originally said there were no suspicious circumstances around his death, but later confirmed he had been stabbed. Volker Beck, a politician with the Green party, said he wanted an official investigation into why police had been so slow in launching a proper investigation.
Meera Selva has covered security and intelligence issues from Africa, London and Berlin. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org