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'Cyber-attack threat in Belgium'

Timothy JonesMarch 26, 2016

Belgium's major infrastructure, including nuclear plants, could soon come under cyberattack, the EU's counterterrorism coordinator has said. The warning comes with reports of the murder of a Belgian nuclear plant guard.

Atomkraftwerk in Tihange Belgien
Image: Getty Images/AFP/E. Lalmand

Belgium's network of nuclear power stations, as well as energy and transport infrastructure, could become the targets of cyberattacks by terrorists in the near future, EU counterterrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said in an interview published on Saturday.

"I would not be surprised if there was an attempt in the next five years to use the Internet to commit an attack," de Kerchove told the daily "La Libre Belgique."

He said such an attack would involve terrorists hacking into online computer systems that controlled facilities such as a nuclear power plant, a dam, an air traffic control center or a railroad switching station.

His warning comes as Belgium remains on high alert following Tuesday's suicide bombings in the capital, Brussel, in which 31 people were killed and some 300 injured at the airport and on a metro train.

Belgien Antwerpen Terror Prozess Gilles De Kerchove 08.10.2014
De Kerchove has been the EU counterterror chief since 2007Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Julien Warnand

Activists in Belgium and the country's neighbors, including Germany, have expressed concerns about security and safety at Belgian nuclear facilities for some time. The plants have experienced a number of problems recently, including an unsolved sabotage incident.

Nuclear guard shot

Fears of possible terrorist attacks on plants have been further stoked by reports that a security guard at a Belgian nuclear power station was murdered on Thursday and his access badge stolen.

The "Derniere Heure" newspaper reported on Saturday that the guard had been shot dead in the Charleroi region, south of Brussels. It said the man's badge was de-activated as soon as his murder was discovered.

However, the Charleroi prosecutor's office has ruled out any militant link, and also denied that the man's security pass had been stolen or de-activated.

A police spokeswoman told Reuters news agency she could not comment because an investigation was ongoing.

On Thursday, the "Dernier Heure" reported that Tuesday's attackers had originally considered targeting a nuclear site, but that they abandoned the plan and switched to Brussels after police arrested a number of suspected militants, forcing them to accelerate their actions.

Last year, investigators discovered surveillance footage of a Belgian nuclear plant official in the flat of a suspect connected both to the Brussels attacks and those in Paris on November 13 last year.

tj/jm (Reuters, AFP)