Belgium’s prime minister called on Saturday for urgent talks with France, Germany and the Netherlands to seek more security measures on cross-border trains, after a gunman was wrestled to the ground by passengers.
Two people were wounded in the struggle on Friday to subdue a suspected Islamist militant who had boarded a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris in Brussels in what Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel described as “a terrorist attack”.
“The prime minister proposes an urgent meeting of transport and interior ministers from Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands to reinforce anti-terrorist measures, notably identity and baggage controls,” Michel’s office said after a meeting of his security council.
At that meeting, which brought together the foreign, interior, defence and justice ministers, it was decided to immediately increase patrols of French and Belgian police on Thalys trains – the international high-speed services that transit Belgium – and to carry out more baggage checks.
Belgium, home to half a million Muslims, largely of French-speaking North African descent, among its 11 million people, has been on alert since January when Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in Paris, mostly at the “Charlie Hedbo” magazine office.
In the days after that, Belgian police killed two people during about a dozen raids against a suspected Islamist group that federal prosecutors said was about to launch “terrorist attacks on a grand scale”.
The prime minister’s office said the train gunman, whis is being held in France where he was arrested, was known to Belgian authorities, which had been informed by Spain that he was a security risk.
Belgian federal prosecutors said they were working closely with France and had opened their own inquiry “on the basis that the suspect had boarded the train in Brussels”.
Although the Belgian government introduced a raft of counter-terrorism measures before Friday’s attack, the Thalys trains between France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have been subject to relatively light security.
In contrast to the Eurostar trains between Paris, London and Brussels, passengers’ luggage is not screened and identity checks are not routine. Britain is the only one of those countries outside the European Union’s Schengen area where border passport checks are not routinely carried out.