5 detained after arson attack on Brussels criminal institute

Belgian police officers secure a road near the Belgium's National Institute of Criminology after arsonists set fire to it in Brussels, Belgium August 29, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

BRUSSELS – The Brussels prosecutor is dismissing reports that a bomb exploded early Monday outside Belgium’s criminal institute, describing the incident as more likely an arson attack designed to destroy criminal evidence.

Officials told a news conference that five people had been detained in the vicinity of the crime lab following the incident and were being questioned by police.

“It’s probably not terrorism. It’s a criminal act,” said prosecutors’ spokeswoman Ine Van Wymersch. “I cannot confirm that there was any bomb.”

“The location was not chosen randomly,” Van Wymersch added, saying the lab contains “sensitive information” being used in ongoing investigations.

The forensic facility assists and advises Belgium’s justice authorities in carrying out their investigations.

READ MORE: Security alert in Brussels triggered by man with suicide belt full of salt and cookies

State broadcaster RTBF and other outlets had reported that a car drove through a security barrier at the site about 2 a.m., followed by an explosion that caused significant damage to the facility on Brussels’ north side. Nobody was injured.

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Investigators said the suspected arsonists set fire to a laboratory used to analyze DNA samples found at crime scenes.

“So it’s an act that could be linked to (destroying) several files,” Van Wymersch said.

She said any explosion heard by residents may have been caused by material being consumed in the fire.

Belgium has been on high alert since co-ordinated March 22 suicide bomb attacks on the Brussels airport and subway killed 32 people.

Belgium’s police and army have also been deployed in large numbers since suicide bombers attacked Paris last November, leaving 130 dead. Many of the attackers had links to Belgium.

Tensions have been running high in Belgium in recent weeks amid a series of criminal knife and shooting attacks and two hoax anthrax attacks.