August 22, 2015 / 2:21 PM / 4 years ago

Belgium calls on neighbors for more security on cross-border trains

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s prime minister called on Saturday for urgent talks with France, Germany and the Netherlands on increasing security on cross-border trains, after a gunman was wrestled to the ground by passengers.

Two people were wounded in the struggle on Friday to subdue a suspected Islamist militant who had boarded a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris in Brussels in what Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called a terrorist attack.

“The prime minister proposes an urgent meeting of transport and interior ministers from Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands to reinforce anti-terrorist measures, notably identity and baggage controls,” Michel’s office said after a meeting of his security council.

At that meeting, which brought together the foreign, interior, defense and justice ministers, it was decided to immediately increase patrols of French and Belgian police on Thalys trains - international high-speed services that transit Belgium - and to carry out more baggage checks.

Belgium, home to half a million Muslims, largely of French-speaking North African descent, among its 11 million people, has been on alert since January when Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in Paris, mostly at the “Charlie Hedbo” magazine office.

In the days after that, Belgian police killed two people during about a dozen raids against a suspected Islamist group that federal prosecutors said was about to launch “terrorist attacks on a grand scale”.

The prime minister’s office said the train gunman, who is being held in France where he was arrested, was known to Belgian authorities, which had been informed by Spain that he was a security risk.

Belgian federal prosecutors said they were working closely with France and had opened their own inquiry “on the basis that the suspect had boarded the train in Brussels”.

Although the Belgian government introduced counter-terrorism measures before Friday’s attack, the Thalys trains between France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany have been subject to relatively light security.

In contrast to the Eurostar trains between Paris, London and Brussels, passengers’ luggage is not screened and identity checks are not routine.

Britain is outside the European Union’s Schengen area where border passport checks are not routinely carried out.

The Schengen treaty on freedom of movement is “non-negotiable” and the European Commission does not intend to change it, it said in an emailed statement on Saturday.

But it said increased security controls could be compatible with Schengen “if they do not have an effect equivalent to border checks”.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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