March 2, 2017 / 4:44 PM / 3 years ago

Belgium frees driver detained for carrying gas cylinders

Belgian police sealed off an area of central Brussels while bomb disposal experts checked a car carrying gas bottles following a police spokeswoman's statement to local media, in Brussels, Belgium March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian authorities released on Friday a man with previous militant links who had been detained a day earlier after two gas cylinders were found in a van he was driving.

The man, identified only as M.A., told investigators the cylinders were for domestic use. Prosecutors told a news conference before his release that their initial findings supported his explanation.

The van was pulled over on Thursday afternoon after it had run a red light, officials said. The roads near the city’s main Gare du Midi railway station were sealed off.

Prosecutors said checks had shown that one of the cylinders was empty, and no explosives or detonation mechanism were found in the car.

They said the man was known to authorities and had been sentenced to jail in 2016 for participation in the activities of a terrorist group.

The Belgian capital has been on high alert approaching the first anniversary of Islamic State suicide attacks that killed 32 people on March 22.

Police and soldiers reinforced security around Antwerp central station from Thursday evening until Friday morning after a film emerged showing scenes near the station and the message “We are still here”.

Federal security experts subsequently concluded that there was no increased threat of an attack.

Reporting By Philip Blenkinsop

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