Belgian authorities report that Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne has been placed under police protection after law enforcement became aware of a “possible threat” to the politician's safety after a vehicle containing firearms was discovered outside the minister’s home earlier in the week.
Last week, federal prosecutors became aware of credible threats made to Van Quickenborne, which were taken “seriously.” The minister was immediately placed under tight police surveillance and urged to cancel his participation in several events.
According to Flemish media VRT, Kalashnikovs, firearms, and two canisters of petrol were found in a car park outside of the house that the minister shares with his family.
In total, four suspects have been arrested in the Netherlands in relation to the plot and are awaiting extradition. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has said that Belgian authorities “will not be intimidated by anyone” and condemned the criminals actions.
The exact details of the criminals’ plans are not yet known, however it is widely believed that the threat is related to a potential kidnapping, possibly organised by organised drug criminals. The threat against the minister forced Belgian authorities to cancel a planned FPS Justice meeting about tackling drug violence.
In a post on Facebook, the minister thanked Belgium’s security services and redoubled his efforts to fight organised crime.
“Let me be clear: the people behind this are achieving the opposite of what they aimed for. It strengthens me in the belief that we need to keep fighting. The criminals feel cornered. That feeling is right,” he said.
Belgian seeks to get tough on organised crime
In recent months, Belgian authorities have increased their efforts to tackle Belgium’s emboldened criminal underworld, who have grown rich on the back of the lucrative Antwerp cocaine trade. The city has become home to repeated grenade attacks, narco killings, and other gang violence.
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Last year, Belgian authorities seized 89 tonnes of drugs coming through the port of Antwerp. In collaboration with French and Dutch police, Belgium’s Operation Sky ECC recently led to the arrest of around 888 suspects linked to the criminal underworld, as well as the seizure of €4.5 billion on illegal drugs.
Europol, the European Union’s policy agency, now describes Belgium and the Netherlands as the “epicentre of the cocaine market in Europe”
Belgium will soon allocate even more powers to local authorities and police forces to act against violent organised criminal gangs. Police forces will soon receive an additional €310 million to help fight criminals. Some politicians have even called on Belgium to use the army to crack down on the growing violence.