Antwerp – walking in a terrorist’s pre-steps

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39-year old Mohammed R., a French national of North African origin, allegedly tried to imitate the Westminster attack in Antwerp, but was stopped without any casualties.

A few months ago, I strolled along the route that Mohamed R. wanted to turn into a killing zone. The old centre of Antwerp is one of the most surprisingly gorgeous gems of north-western Europe; essentially a narrow, 1.5 km-long strip from Centraal, one of the most beautiful train stations I’ve seen so far, through De Meir, now a long, historic pedestrian shopping mall (through which Mohamed drove his car at high speed), past the cathedral, main square, city hall, all the way to the Scheldt riverfront.

The car was spotted at around 11:00 (10:00 GMT), Antwerp police chief Serge Muyters said.

“The vehicle was driving at high speed on De Meir,” he said. “Our army colleagues spotted it and tried to bring the vehicle to a halt.

“But the driver broke free and drove through the red light towards the port quays.”

Police were contacted, he said, and immediately sent a rapid response team, intercepting the vehicle and driver.

“The suspect, a man of North African origin, was immediately arrested,” he said.

The federal prosecutor’s office, which has taken over the investigation, named the suspect as “Mohamed R”, a 39-year-old French national and resident of France.

“Different arms were found in the boot – bladed weapons, a riot gun and a container of liquid that is still unidentifiable,” the prosecutor’s statement also said.

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De Meir on a normal day.

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The gorgeous Centraal train station

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Looking towards the cathedral from the riverside

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Merchant houses which line the old city square

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Belgian soldiers outside the train station. Their quick actions to stop Mohamed R. spooked him enough to abandon his plan and escape before he was caught by the police. Seeing armed soldiers on the streets of European cities jars, but it also saves lives – a sad necessity these days.

(All photos copyright Arthur Chrenkoff)

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