Belgium issues major security alert after bomb scare

BRUSSELS, June 21 (UPI) — Belgium issued a major security alert on Tuesday morning after a man called police saying he was wearing an explosive belt at a Brussels shopping mall.

The explosives turned out to be cookies and salt, but a suspect was arrested.

Justice Minister Koen Geens said the suspect may have ties to terrorists, but a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor said his office was leaning toward believing the incident to be a false alarm, adding that it was too early to know for sure.

The suspect, identified only by the initials J.B., called police about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday claiming he had been kidnapped, strapped with an explosive belt and dumped at the City2 shopping mall.

The man was already known to authorities for making a call earlier in June claiming he was being recruited by the Islamic State in Syria. He had also been investigated for other unnamed incidents and for mental health issues, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Brussels prosecutors’ office said it could not validate the man’s claims of having ties to IS.

Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel said Tuesday’s incident was “under control” but that security officials will remain “extremely vigilant,” NBC News reported.

Belgium has experienced several false alarms in recent days, including one on Sunday that caused the evacuation of the central train station in Brussels.

The City2 shopping plaza, where Tuesday’s incident occurred, had been under surveillance over the weekend. It is a place where soccer fans tend to gather to watch euro 2016 games. Police arrested three people there Saturday, suspecting they were plotting to attack soccer fans watching games in public venues. They were charged with attempted murder.

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In March, attacks on the Brussels subway and the Zaventem International Airport killed 32 people.

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