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Belgian PM pledges security crackdown, rebuffs critics

Residents of the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek are searched by police before taking part in a memorial gathering

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel pledged a security crackdown and an extra 400 million euros ($427 million) to fight Islamist violence on Thursday, while rejecting criticism of Belgium’s security services in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Michel said in a speech to parliament that the government would introduce laws to jail jihadists returning from Syria, ban hate preachers and close down unregistered places of worship in response to last week’s attacks.

The poor Brussels district of Molenbeek has been at the centre of investigations into last week’s attacks in the French capital after it emerged that at least two of the attackers had been living there.

As he spoke, Belgian police were carrying a fresh raid in Molenbeek related to the Paris attacks, a government source said.

French President Francois Hollande said the coordinated suicide bombings and shootings that killed at least 129 people had been planned in Belgium. French media quoted an intelligence source as saying: “The Belgians just aren’t up to it.”

Michel stopped short of acknowledging the attacks had been organised from Belgium but blamed “Franco-Belgian cells”.

“Also I don’t accept the criticism seeking to disparage our security services, who do a difficult and tough job,” he said.

The prime minister said Belgium would amend laws to convict or expel hate preachers, make it impossible to buy pre-paid mobile phone cards anonymously and enable police to carry out home searches at any time of the day or night.

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