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Spate of terror threats against schools 'not credible', authorities say

10:11 12/04/2024

Ocam, Belgium’s federal body for combatting terrorism, has deemed a potential threat towards all of the country’s secondary schools "unlikely", though threat level three remains in place.

Threat level three has been in place since the terror attack of Swedish football fans in Brussels in October, and indicates that the possibility of a threat is being taken seriously and increased vigilance and police presence are being deployed where appropriate.

In that context, several schools received threats via email, the National Crisis Centre reported on Wednesday night, but authorities said the threats were "not credible" following an analysis.

While Ocam described the threats as directed towards schools in Wallonia, a spokesperson for the crisis centre previously confirmed that all secondary schools in Belgium were concerned.

Details on the nature of the threat or the specific schools to receive emails have not yet been made available.

Flemish secondary schools and Dutch-speaking schools in Brussels currently have Easter holidays. The French-language schools of the largest education network, Wallonie Bruxelles-Enseignement (WBE), were all open on Thursday except for the secondary school in Jodoigne, in Walloon Brabant.

The school is keeping its doors closed at the request of the municipal authorities, WBE said.

In Juprelle in the Liège region, children will remain inside their schools and will not have access to the playground.

A letter to parents, signed by the mayor of Juprelle, stated that “several schools in the Basse-Meuse police zone have received terrorist threatening emails. The federal police have been put in charge of the general investigation and Ocam has been notified to verify the veracity of the information and to issue further instructions, which we are awaiting."

The letter spread quickly and sparked some anxiety from parents and criticism from politicians.

Ben Weyts, the Flemish minister for education, called for a "more considered" response to worrying messages in future.

“Of course parents are worried when they hear that there are threats against schools, and therefore against their children,” Weyts said.

“If we sound the alarm too quickly, it can be detrimental to future, very real threats, which may then be taken less seriously.”

Police remain mobilised to identify the author of the threatening emails.

“School boards are already on daily alert and will obviously be even more so now, but the most important thing is not to panic,” said WBE communications director Cécile Marquette.

CPEONS, the umbrella organisation of municipal and provincial high schools, reported no disruptions in schools on Thursday, but increased vigilance in line with the authorities' recommendations.

Written by Helen Lyons