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Suspect killed, 4 police wounded in Brussels raid over Paris attacks
[BRUSSELS] Belgian and French police launched a vast manhunt for more possible suspects late Tuesday after a Kalashnikov-wielding assailant was killed and four officers were wounded during an anti-terror operation in Brussels linked to the November 13 Paris attacks.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said operations were continuing after the gun battle in the southern Brussels suburb of Forest, and that the national security council would meet on Wednesday.
Armed police came under fire as they carried out a daylight search on a property in the quiet suburb, sparking a series of gun battles that left children trapped in nearby schools.
"During what was believed to be a routine search, security forces were fired on. That was followed by police operations which are ongoing," Mr Michel told a press conference, adding that it was "linked to the attacks in Paris".
A French policewoman was among three officers wounded in the initial attack, while a fourth was hurt in an exchange of fire.
Mr Michel thanked residents for their "composure" as bursts of gunfire erupted in the streets and dozens of heavily-armed police with balaclavas and sub-machineguns sealed off the area.
The dead person had not been identified but prosecutors said it was not Salah Abdeslam, a key suspect in the Paris massacre claimed by the Islamic State jihadi group which killed 130 people and left 350 wounded.
"In this operation, one or several people opened fire on the police as they came through the door" of the property in an initial search, the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.
"One suspect armed with a Kalashnikov-type assault rifle was killed in an assault" by police about three hours later, it said.
Police were "actively pursuing investigations, day and night", the statement said.
Eric Van Der Sypt, spokesman for the prosecutor's office, was quoted by the Belga news agency as saying: "A body was found during a search of a house... his identity has not been established yet but whatever the case, it is not Salah Abdeslam." French police sources confirmed Abdeslam was not targeted in the raid.
Security forces launched a huge operation after the gunbattle broke out, cordoning off the area with police vehicles while a police helicopter hovered overhead, AFP reporters at the scene said.
Local mayor Marc-Jean Ghyssels earlier said that "two people are holed up in a building".
People in two schools and two nurseries near the scene were asked to remain indoors.
Parents at the cordon line became increasingly distressed as they were unable to get to their children, before they were eventually let out one by one, accompanied by armed police.
Police later started letting people back into their homes and 50 people who had been trapped in an Aldi supermarket were also allowed out.
The incident took place across the street from an Audi auto factory and the train lines leading to the Eurostar cross-channel train srevice terminal at the Gare du Midi railway station.
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed earlier that French police were involved.
"A team made up of Belgian and French police came under fire, apparently from assault weapons, during a raid," he said after arriving in the Ivory Coast capital following a weekend shooting rampage by jihadists there that killed 18.
Two weeks after the Paris attacks, Brussels was put on five days of lockdown with authorities warning of an imminent threat of violence amid an ongoing manhunt for Abdeslam.
Soldiers are still on guard at key areas including train stations and EU institutions.
Abdeslam, 26, who is believed to have played a key role in organising the Paris attacks, fled across the border to Belgium hours after the killings in the French capital and is now one of the most wanted men in Europe.
Since mid-November, 11 people have been arrested and charged in Belgium in connection with the killings and eight are still in detention.
Abdeslam was reportedly holed up for three weeks after the Paris attacks in an apartment in the Schaerbeek district in north Brussels, where police found a fingerprint, traces of explosives and possible suicide belts.