Belgium (CNN)Brussels: It’s a quaint but bustling city, famed for its picture postcard squares, its chocolate and its beer. But it is rapidly becoming infamous, too, as a fertile recruiting ground for jihadi fighters.
According to police, the carnage of the Paris attacks was plotted here, and it was in these streets that fugitiveSalah Abdeslam hid out in an apartment after abandoning his mission, dumping his suicide belt in a Parisian street and calling friends for help, after apparently driving his co-conspirators to their deaths.
That Abdeslam was caught at all appears to have been an enormous stroke of luck. Despite a massive security operation, the trail appeared to have gone cold, until police, initiating a search for evidence at Abdeslam’s safe house on Tuesday, encountered a barrage of gunfire which tipped them off that something — or someone — important was inside.
Abdeslam and another man are believed to have escaped while a fellow suspect distracted police; he was eventually shot dead but by then Abdeslam had fled, across the rooftops.
Three days later, on Friday, officers finally cornered him in a daring daytime raid on another apartment, bringing to an end an international manhunt that had lasted more than four months.
But authorities here still don’t know what — if any — terror plans are in the works, even with Abdeslam himself finally captured alive and charged, awaiting extradition to France.
Hotbed of jihadist ideology
Belgium remains wary and on edge, its alert level stuck at “grave” — the second highest stage — with security forces warning of a very real threat of attack.
In the past several weeks, CNN went to Molenbeek, a working-class district that has found notoriety as a hotbed of violent jihadist ideology, to find out what — if anything — had changed since the bloodshed in Paris four months ago.
It took months to coax people to meet with us. Many had received threats from self-proclaimed extremists directly to their mobile phones, warning them against speaking to the media.