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#BrusselsAttacks: Nuclear breach fears as three more charged over terror offences

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Brussels Nuclear Alert

A security guard who worked at a Belgian nuclear medical research facility was murdered two days after the Brussels bombings, it emerged yesterday (Saturday 26 March), deepening fears that Islamist terror cells are plotting attacks against nuclear installations. Didier Prospero, a guard with the G4S security company, was shot dead at his home in the Froidchapelle district of Brussels on less than 24 hours after Belgian authorities stripped several workers of their security passes at two nuclear plants this week.

The circumstances of 45-year-old Mr Prospero’s death remained murky last night, with conflicting reports over whether or not the murder was linked to terrorism, or if his work security pass had been stolen.

News of the killing emerged as Belgian prosecutors announced on Saturday they have charged three men with terror offenses over the suicide attacks, as organisers cancelled a solidarity rally at the government's request because police are too stretched to cope.

Prosecutors said a man identified as Faycal C., who was arrested on Thursday, has been charged with "involvement in a terrorist group, terrorist murder and attempted terrorist murder."

Belgian media say he is Faycal Cheffou, the man in the light vest and hat pictured on security video with two men who blew themselves up at the airport. Cheffou is described as a local activist known to police for trying to rally asylum-seekers and homeless people to radical Islam.

Prosecutors would not confirm the Belgian media reports. A police raid was conducted at his home but no arms or explosives were found, they said.

Two other suspects detained on Thursday and identified as Raba N. and Aboubakar A. were charged with "involvement in the activities of a terrorist group."

In addition, a man named as Abderamane A. who was taken into custody on Friday after he was shot by police at a Brussels tram stop is being held for at least 24 more hours.

The arrests came after news emerged that Mr Prospero was found dead in his bathroom by his three children when they returned home from school on Thursday afternoon. He had received four gunshot wounds. His sheepdog Beauce was also killed and lay next to him.

Belgian prosecutors maintained last night that the murder was the result of a burglary gone wrong, but provided no detailed explanation as to why Mr Prospero, a respectable family man should suddenly have been murdered in a freak burglary.

The killing comes after a string of security scares and breaches around Belgium’s nuclear infrastructure and the discovery last November an Islamic State cell in Brussels had kept a top Belgian nuclear scientist under video surveillance.

The report of Mr Prospero’s murder heightened concerns that the Brussels bombers were plotting to build a radioactive “dirty” bomb — but apparently shelved the plan after security was stepped up at Belgium’s nuclear plants this month following intelligence warnings.

Belgian authorities have played down the risk posed by jihadists to its nuclear facilities in the past.

Last November 10 hours of surveillance footage of a top Belgian nuclear scientist was discovered in a house belonging to a known jihadi, but the existence of the footage was only acknowledged by Belgian authorities on February 18 after it was leaked to a Belgian paper.

The film is believed by security forces to have been taken by Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui, the brothers who the authorities say were suicide bombers at the Brussels airport and subway station. They are understood to have removed a hidden camera from bushes outside the official’s house.

After the news broke Jan Jambon, the Belgian interior minister, rejected a proposal to deploy troops saying that “nothing indicates a specific threat to nuclear power plants”, but two weeks later, on March 4, changed his mind and deployed 140 soldiers to guard five nuclear facilities.

Belgium prosecutors told the Sunday Telegraph that Mr Prospero was not employed at a nuclear plant, but worked guarding a nuclear medical research facility in Fleurus, near Charleroi, about 30 miles from his home in Froidchapelle.

This was contradicted by G4S who said that Mr Prospero was a general patrol officer who did not have access to nuclear facilities or guard nuclear sites.

The company added that Mr Prospero’s security pass had not gone missing in the attack, contradicting reports in Belgian local media that the security pass had been stolen.

“He was killed at gunpoint at his home. All indications are that it has nothing to do with his work, from what we understand,” a G4S spokesman said, “There is no missing pass. All his uniform and his papers are accounted for. G4S are co-operating with the police investigation.”

The is not the first time that fears of a terror threat to Belgium's nuclear power plants have been raised.

In 2013, an engineer from Doel 4, one of the nuclear reactors of a power plant near Anvers, was sacked over concerns that he had been radicalised after he refused to shake his superior's hand.

The employee was later identified as the brother-in-law of Azzedine Kbir Bounekoub, a jihadist involved with Sharia4Belgium, who left Belgium to join Isil in Syria in 2012 and had frequently called on Isil sympathisers to launch terror attacks in Belgium.

In another disturbing incident, a turbine at the same Doel 4 reactor was sabotaged in 2014 when someone deliberately turned security cameras the other way and then emptied 65,000 litres of oil used to lubricate the turbine.

The incident, which nearly caused the reactor to overheat, has never been elucidated and there have been no arrests. The federal prosecutor is "seriously considering" the theory that was linked to terrorism, according to the French newspaper Libération.

Defence

Biden to join eastern European NATO states summit, focus seen on Ukraine

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US President Joe Biden (pictured) joined a virtual summit of eastern European NATO states held in the Romanian capital Bucharest on Monday (10 May), Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said, with a focus on security in the Black Sea region and Ukraine.

The summit of the Bucharest Nine, a group of European countries on the eastern edge of NATO, will be jointly hosted by Iohannis and Poland's President Andrzej Duda and aims at coordinating the security positions of countries in the region.

"Glad to welcome Joe Biden to the Bucharest9 Summit which I host in Bucharest today," Iohannis said on his Twitter account.

"Together with President Andrzej Duda we'll also welcome ... Jens Stoltenberg in preparation of NATO Summit, focusing on Transatlantic ties, NATO 2030, defence and deterrence on the eastern flank."

Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia will video-conference into the gathering.

"In ... the statement that the nine will publish after the meeting there will be the issue of security in the Black Sea region and the related security issues in Ukraine," the head of Poland's National Security Bureau, Pawel Soloch, told reporters.

Earlier this month, Washington said it could increase security help for Kyiv after Russia moved troops near its border with Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops are in conflict with Moscow-backed separatists.

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Cyber-espionage

Commission makes €11 million available to strengthen cybersecurity capabilities and co-operation

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The European Commission will make €11 million of funding available for 22 new projects seeking to strengthen the European Union's capacity to deter and mitigate cyber-threats and incidents, by employing the latest technologies. The projects, which have been selected following a recent call for proposals under the Connecting Europe Facility programme, will support various cybersecurity organisations in 18 Member States. The beneficiaries of the funding include Computer Security Incident Response teams, operators of essential services in the health, energy, transport and other sectors, as well as bodies dealing with the cybersecurity certification and testing, as defined in the EU Cybersecurity Act. They will start working after the summer on tools and skills necessary to comply with the requirements set by the NIS Directive and the Cybersecurity Act, while at the same time they will engage in activities aimed to enhance cooperation at the EU level. So far the EU has funded almost €47.5m to reinforce EU cybersecurity between 2014 and 2020, through the Connecting Europe Facility programme. Furthermore, more than €1 billion under the Digital Europe Programme will be directed towards the areas of focus of the new EU Cybersecurity Strategy. More information is available here. More information about Europe's actions to strengthen cybersecurity capacities is available here and EU-funded cybersecurity projects can be found here.

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Defence

Military leaders address collective Arctic security issues

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Military leaders from 11 European and North American nations concluded two days of strategic discussions focused on Arctic security issues during the annual Arctic Security Forces Roundtable (ASFR) last week. While the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic delayed plans to meet in person in Rovaniemi, Finland, the Finnish military leveraged virtual technology to host the in-depth, time-sensitive discussions focused on current and emerging High North security issues.

Established in 2010 by Norway and the United States, the ASFR promotes Arctic cooperation among military forces that operate in and around the Arctic region, while also supporting nations that promote peaceful development of the Arctic region and adhere to international-rule-based order.

“The amount of focused attention and activity – commercially, militarily, environmentally – in the Arctic, along with the region’s continued strategic importance, makes this high-level military gathering an imperative for us,” said US Army Maj. Gen. Charles Miller, US European, Command’s (USEUCOM) director of plans, policy, strategy and capabilities. “From the issues we discuss to the relationships we continue to foster and forge, this roundtable is truly an invaluable forum for our nations.”

This flag-and-general-officer level, military-to-military forum, co-chaired by Norway and the U.S., to promote regional understanding and enhance multilateral security cooperation is currently the only military forum focused on the Arctic region’s unique challenging security dynamics and architecture, and full range of military capabilities and co-operation.

"The round table serves a critical role in ensuring that each participating senior military leader representing some 11 nations gains a clearer understanding of the Arctic," said Commodore Solveig Krey, Defence Staff Norway’s Assistant Chief of Staff Operations. "This roundtable, working in concert with the full range of bilateral and multilateral exercises and operations that occur throughout the year, helps support a secure, stable Arctic region where nations work cooperatively to address security challenges of collective concern."

During this year’s ASFR, participants discussed the roles of the Arctic Council, European Union and NATO, and those organizations’ aims to foster governance and cooperation in the region. Each participating nation detailed its own national Arctic strategy, senior representatives from NATO presented the alliance’s current Arctic outlook, and the participants addressed important transportation and environmental issues.

About USEUCOM

US European Command (USEUCOM) is responsible for US military operations across Europe, portions of Asia and the Middle East, the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean. USEUCOM is comprised of more than 64,000 military and civilian personnel and works closely with NATO Allies and partners. The command is one of two U.S. forward-deployed geographic combatant commands headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. For more information about USEUCOM, click here.

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