Shops close after Brussels put on maximum security alert

Belgians feel the stress of being on maximum alert after warnings of a “serious and imminent” threat of coordinated, multiple attacks by militants prompted the closure of the metro, stores and shopping centres in Brussels.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (NOVEMBER 21, 2015) (REUTERS) – Shops in the centre of Belgian capital Brussels closed at midday on Saturday (November 21), three weeks before Christmas and commercial streets filled up with police and soldiers after the threat level was raised to the maximum implying a “serious and imminent threat.”

Shoppers were taken by surprise as the decision followed shortly after the Prime Minister announced the new measures saying police had recovered weapons and explosives during a house search the night before.

Some said closing busy commercial centres and metro stations and cancelling concerts and big events was the right answer to the threat of attack. But others thought it did little more than raise stress levels.

“Well it’s not good for the economy but it’s good for security because at least the terrorists, the baddies, won’t come to the shops, like here for example, it’s good like this,” said Brussels resident, Juana.

One frustrated shopper, Mohammed, said he was a football trainer whose morning match had been cancelled for security reasons. He went shopping instead just to find shops shuttered.

“No, this is giving the advantage to this so-called terrorism. Because people are stuck at home and do nothing, nothing. This morning they cancelled all the football matches, why? For nothing. The shops, for nothing. We are doing the terrorists a favour. It’s like ‘look, everybody is at home, the shops are closed’. No, we have to go on living,” said Mohammed.

“The people – I have a friend who owns a shop down there and its totally empty. People look at each other, they are scared, it’s almost as if they are scared of you,” said Christian Champluvier, another Belgian.

Whilst only some stores closed in the normally busy Porte de Namur area, all commercial establishments in the main shopping street of Rue Neuve were ordered to close. One shop owner said they had been instructed to shut everything down in that street and that it remained voluntary for the other branches in the city.

The level 4 threat alert was imposed one week after the Paris bombings and shootings carried out by Islamic State militants, of whom one suspect from Brussels is at large and said by police to be highly dangerous.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel met with his top ministers, police and security met on Saturday morning to assess the situation and took the decision.

Michel declined to elaborate, but said the government would review the situation on Sunday afternoon.

The metro system is to remain closed until then, in line with recommendation of the government’s crisis centre. Major shopping centres and stores centre did open on Saturday morning, with soldiers deployed outside shops. However, many began closing their doors from around midday.

The crisis centre advised the public to avoid places where a lot of people gather including concerts, sports events and public transport hubs. The city’s museums were shut and concert venues cancelled planned evening events.

The agency has called on local authorities to cancel large events and postpone soccer matches, as well as stepping up the military and police presence.

The threat level for the rest of the country is at three implying a “possible or probable” threat.