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Planned Belgium terror attacks during Ireland-Belgium match foiled by police

Belgian police officers in Brussels yesterday
Belgian police officers in Brussels yesterday

Belgian authorities have raided dozens of homes and arrested 12 suspects in a major anti-terror investigation which they say required "immediate intervention", with reports of attacks planned in the country during the Belgium-Ireland match.

Attacks were planned for during the Belgium vs Ireland Euro 2016 match this afternoon - with terrorists believed to have targeted crowded areas where fans would have gathered across Belgium to watch the match.

The federal prosecutor's office said that homes and garages were searched in 16 municipalities, mostly in and around Brussels.

The statement said 40 people were taken in for questioning, of whom 12 were arrested. It said there were no major incidents during the raids.

The operation comes as Belgium is still under the second highest terror alert in the wake of the March 22 attacks on the Brussels subway and airport which left 32 people dead.

Authorities are especially aware of security risks during the Euro 2016 championships in neighbouring France.

The prosecutor's statement said that "the results of the investigation necessitated an immediate intervention," indicating a violent attack was planned in the near future.

The federal prosecutor's office did not link the raids to the March 22 attacks, even though an eighth suspect was arrested late on Friday. The Belgian man, identified as Youssef E.A., was charged with "participation in the activities of a terrorist group, terrorist murders and attempts to terrorist murders".

Belgian media also reported that four top ministers, including Prime Minister Charles Michel, have received special protection following unspecified threats.

Belgium's federal prosecutor's office said no weapons or explosives were found during the searches, which also involved 152 garage lockups.

Flemish public broadcaster VTM said the people arrested overnight were suspected of planning an attack in Brussels this weekend during one of Belgium's soccer matches.

Belgian newspaper Le Soir said areas where fans watch matches were potential targets, as well as other crowded areas like shopping centres and stations, citing a security source.

It is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of people with Irish citizens in Belgium. Most EU countries have no requirement to register with the local Irish embassy.

However, it is estimated that 30,000 Irish live in the Benelux countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.