An explosion at a criminology institute in Brussels caused major damage but no casualties, authorities say. Police have detained five people suspected of involvement in an attempt to destroy crime scene evidence.
Belgian state broadcaster RTL reported a suspected arson attack heavily damaged Belgium's criminology institute in a Brussels suburb early on Monday morning but the building was empty at the time and nobody was injured.
Prosecutors said authorities suspected the attack was an attempt to destroy sensitive files held by the federal justice agency which carries out scientific analyses in criminal cases.
"The location was not chosen randomly," prosecutors office spokeswoman Ine Van Wymersch said, noting the lab contains "sensitive information" being used in active investigations involving DNA evidence.
She added that "several attackers forced their way into the institute using their car and were able to attack the building," targeting the area of the building where the laboratories are located.
Police have held five suspects for questioning.
"Five people were arrested in the immediate neighborhood," Van Wymersch told reporters. "They are currently being questioned to see if they had any role in the incident."
About 30 firefighters responded after the destructive fire ripped through the vacant building at around 3 a.m. (0100 UTC) in a suburb to the north of the Belgian capital. Brussels is also home to many European Union institutions.
Initial reports were of a bomb attack but authorities later said they believed the fire had ignited combustible material in the building causing a blast.
"The explosion was extremely powerful," fire department spokesman Pierre Meys said. "Windows of the lab were blown out dozens of meters away."
"With a fire you get explosions, but it's not that explosives were thrown inside or installed," Van Wymersch added.
Belgian police deployed in force and sealed off the area.
The country has been on high alert since the March 22 attacks on the airport and metro that killed 32 people.
rs, jar/jm (AFP, AP)