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Belgian prime minister extends terror alert at highest level in Brussels

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BRUSSELS, Belgium — Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said that the terror alert will remain at the highest level for a sustained “serious and imminent” threat against the capital.

Michel said that like the weekend, authorities fear a Paris-like attack, “even perhaps at several locations.”

He said schools and the subway system in Brussels would not open.

Specific reasons for the extraordinary alert in Brussels, which began Friday night, weren’t disclosed, but Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Saturday that authorities had reason to suspect possible attacks in more than one location.

“We are talking of a threat of several individuals with weapons and explosives, to launch acts, maybe even in several places at once,” Michel said, evoking chilling similarities with the Paris attacks that hit restaurants, a rock concert and the area outside a sports stadium.

At least one man suspected of involvement the Paris violence, Salah Abdeslam, a French citizen who grew up in Belgium, is still at large.

‘A serious and imminent threat’

The Belgian Interior Ministry’s crisis center cited “a serious and imminent threat” when it announced that Brussels’ terrorism alert level was rising to 4, the country’s highest. Outside the capital, the alert level for the rest of the nation was unchanged.

Officials are expected to re-evaluate the threat Sunday afternoon, Michel said, raising the possibility that the disruption could spill into Monday in a city that’s popular with tourists and is home to many European Union offices.

The government advised the public to avoid places in the capital where large groups gather — such as concerts, sporting events, airports and train stations — and comply with security checks.

Michel said the authorities’ main objective is to reduce the number of large events so police officers can be freed up to secure Brussels. A top-tier soccer game that was due to be played 50 miles outside the capital was canceled because of the need for police inside the city.

Security forces flood city

By late Saturday evening in Brussels, most bars were closed or were in the process of closing. Fewer people than usual were out on the streets, but they weren’t deserted.

Armed security officers wearing camouflage were on patrol and positioned in front of metro stations. The city center remained quiet early Sunday.

The alert suggests authorities “have something specific and credible at the intelligence front pointing them in the direction that there may be a terrorist plot in the works,” CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said

“It also suggests they don’t have a handle on it, that they don’t know where these plotters are or where they’re coming from,” he added.

The U.S. State Department advised Americans to be cautious.

Manhunt for suspect

Authorities in Belgium have carried out a series of security raids in the past week related to the Paris attacks, looking in particular for Abdeslam, the 26-year-old suspect who’s still on the run and described as dangerous.

The increased threat level over the weekend, however, appeared to go well beyond the manhunt for Abdeslam, who was last seen by authorities in the hours after the Paris attacks.

French police stopped him and two other men in a car heading toward the Belgian border, but let them go because he hadn’t yet been connected to the massacres in Paris.

French authorities have said the Paris attacks were organized in Belgium. Abdeslam and several other suspects have strong ties to Brussels, notably its suburb of Molenbeek, which has a history of links with terrorism plots.

Abdeslam and his older brother, Ibrahim, who blew himself up at a Paris cafe during the deadly rampage, both hailed from Molenbeek. So did Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the attacks, who authorities say was killed in a police raid near Paris on Wednesday.

Belgian arrested in Turkey

Investigators are still trying to gather a full picture of who played what role in the shootings and bombings across Paris.

Adding to the complex picture, Turkish authorities have arrested three people with suspected ties to ISIS, including a Belgian man who they believe was in contact with the Paris attackers, a Turkish official said.

Ahmet Dahmani, 26, a Belgian national of Moroccan descent, was arrested at a hotel in Antalya, CNN Turk reported. Two other suspects, Syrian citizens Ahmet Tahir, 29, and Mohammed Verd, 23, were arrested after they traveled from Syria to meet Dahmani, authorities said. The two were going to transport him to Syria, authorities said.

In France, investigators are puzzling over the DNA of the third person who was killed during the major police raid Wednesday that targeted Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader.

Two of the dead — Abaaoud and one of his female relatives, Hasna Ait Boulahcen — have been identified. But the DNA of the third person, who is believed to have detonated a suicide device, doesn’t match anyone on police records, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.

Meanwhile, police are extending until at least Monday the detention of Jawad Bendaoud, who rented out the apartment in Saint-Denis where Abaaoud and the others were killed during last week’s raid, said Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office.

Bendaoud is the only man still in custody related to the Saint-Denis raid. Seven of the eight people taken into custody Wednesday were released Saturday, Thibault-Lecuivre said.

French aircraft carrier joining campaign against ISIS

The French government has responded to the Paris attacks by imposing a state of emergency for three months, giving security services a range of extra powers.

Police have conducted hundreds of raids on suspected Islamic militants, and scores of people have been detained or placed under house arrest.

The French military has also stepped up its bombardment of ISIS targets in Syria, launching waves of airstrikes on the militant group’s self-declared capital, Raqqa.

France was already part of the U.S.-led coalition conducting an aerial campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But in the aftermath of the Paris massacres, President Francois Hollande announced that the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle would be deployed to the region, adding additional firepower.

The warship will be operational on Monday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a radio interview Sunday.

French officials, meanwhile, have reported a surge in people applying to join the military following the Paris attacks and Hollande’s declaration that the nation is “at war” against ISIS.