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3Novices:Brussels crime lab attacked to 'destroy evidence'

Brussels // Attackers rammed a car through the gates of Belgium's national crime laboratory in Brussels on Monday and then started a fire in what may have been an attempt to destroy evidence.

Five people were arrested nearby but later released, while prosecutors said there was no confirmed link to terrorism so far. No one was injured in the fire or by a large explosion which shook houses nearby.

The incident comes as Belgium remains on high alert following suicide attacks on the capital's airport and metro system in March which were claimed by ISIL.

"This location was not chosen randomly," said Ine Van Wymersch, a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor's office. The institute deals with "sensitive information in connection with several ongoing cases."

Prosecutors had opened a investigation into "deliberate arson of a building and damage by explosion", while bomb disposal experts attended the scene.

"The possibility of a terrorist act is not confirmed. It goes without saying that several individuals may have wanted to destroy evidence related to their legal cases," Ms Van Wymersch added.

She said "several attackers forced their way into the institute using their car and were able to attack the building" and had apparently deliberately targeted the wing where the laboratories are located.

The incident happened in the early hours of Monday at the national criminology institute in Neder-Over-Hembeek, a northern suburb of Brussels, and near the famed Atomium tourist attraction.

Part of the building was scorched and damaged by fire while a burned out car was lifted from the scene by a crane.

Fire service spokesman Pierre Meys said there was an "extremely powerful" explosion, adding: "Windows of the lab were blown out dozens of metres away."

He said about 30 firefighters were at the scene at around 3am fighting the blaze.

A young woman living in the neighbourhood said the explosion woke her up. "It made the house shake," she said.

The institute is part of Belgium's federal justice system. Among its tasks is carrying out forensic analysis for criminal cases.

Belgium has been on high alert after suicide bombers struck Brussels airport and a metro station near the European Union headquarters on March 22, killing 32 people.

Those attacks were claimed by ISIL, which has claimed numerous terror attacks in Europe in recent months.

The cell responsible for the Brussels attacks was also heavily involved in the November Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed and hundreds more wounded.

The bomb-maker for the Paris attacks, Najim Laachraoui, blew himself up at Brussels airport.

Earlier this month it emerged that Belgian authorities were also hunting a cousin of the El Bakraoui brothers who also blew themselves up in the Brussels attacks.

Belgium has caught several people linked to the Brussels and Paris atrocities including Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving member of the Paris ISIL cell, who has since been extradited to France.

In June Belgian authorities approved a French extradition request for Mohamed Abrini, the "man in the hat" seen on CCTV footage with Laachraoui and Ibrahim El Bakraoui at Brussels airport.

Abrini has not yet been handed over pending further investigation into the Brussels attacks.

*Agence France-Presse
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