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Brussels • Belgian riot police clashed Sunday with hundreds of right-wing hooligans at a temporary shrine honoring victims of the Brussels suicide bombings, as investigators launched fresh anti-terror raids, taking four more people into custody.
Police used water cannon when scuffles broke out in front of the Bourse, which has become a symbolic rallying point for people to pay their respects to those who died in Tuesday's attacks. Black-clad men carrying an anti-Islamic State banner with an expletive on it trampled parts of the shrine, shouting Nazi slogans. Ten were arrested, and two police officers injured.
"We had 340 hooligans from different football clubs who came to Brussels, and we knew for sure that they would create some trouble," police Commissioner Christian De Coninck said. "It was a very difficult police operation because lots of families with kids were here."
Brussels Mayor Yvan Mayeur expressed his disgust, as Belgium was still in mourning over the suicide bombings at Brussels airport and subway, which killed at least 31 people and injured about 270.
People trying to pay their respects were also dismayed.
"It was important for us to be here symbolically," said Samia Orosemane, 35. But, she added, "There were lots of men who were here and doing the Nazi salute, shouting 'death to Arabs' and so we weren't able to get through."
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, said Sunday morning's raids were linked a "federal case regarding terrorism" but did not specify whether it had any links to the attacks Tuesday.
Thirteen raids were launched Sunday in the capital and the northern cities of Mechelen and Duffel. An investigating judge was to decide later whether to keep the four in custody. Suspected plotters also were arrested Sunday in Italy and the Netherlands, though few details were released.
Tuesday's bomb attacks are also tearing at the fabric of the government, justice system and police.
Interior Minister Jan Jambon conceded Sunday that decades of neglect had hampered the government's response to violent extremism. He said the government has invested $670 million into police and security services during the past two years but that Belgium's justice system and security services are still lagging behind.
Jambon, whose offer to resign Thursday was declined by the prime minister, also acknowledged shortcomings prior to the attacks.
"There have been errors," he said on VRT television.
As international pressure on Belgium has mounted for serving as an unwitting rear base for extremist fighters who launched the Nov. 13 massacres that left 130 dead in Paris, the government has felt forced to defend its choices and the actions of investigators. Lawmakers, meanwhile, are demanding an inquiry.
Belgian police and the army have been deployed at major buildings and sites in the capital in increasing numbers since November, when Brussels went into lockdown over fears that top Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam had returned and was hiding there.
As it turned out, Abdeslam did return, but police did not find and arrest him until March 18, four days before attackers from his network exploded suicide bombs in Brussels.
Belgian investigators have been slammed for not questioning Abdeslam long enough or hard enough after he was shot in the leg during his arrest. Police have also been criticized for taking too long to get to Zaventem airport Tuesday morning after two suicide bombers blew themselves up there and left an even bigger third suitcase full of explosives that did not go off.
Jambon and Justice Minister Keen Goens were grilled by lawmakers Friday over how authorities failed to arrest suicide bomber Ibrahim El Bakraoui before he blew himself in the packed departure hall at Brussels Airport.
Turkey has said that Bakraoui whose brother Khalid was the suicide bomber at the Maelbeek subway station Tuesday was caught near Turkey's border with Syria in 2015. Turkey had warned Brussels and the Netherlands that he was "a foreign terrorist fighter." Belgian authorities said they did not know he was suspected of terror-related activities until after he was deported to the Netherlands.
Jambon also said the Brussels subway network had been told to shut off services about 20 minutes before the attack at the subway station, which is close to the European Union headquarters and the U.S. Embassy. He did not fully explain why it was not closed in time, raising more questions about the efficiency of Belgium's security services.
Two more Americans identified as victims
Washington • Two more Americans have been identified as killed in the attacks on Brussels, a State Department official confirmed Sunday, bringing to four the number of U.S. citizens confirmed as victims.
An official confirmed the deaths on grounds of anonymity Sunday night because this person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Earlier Sunday, the White House said President Barack Obama telephoned the parents of an American couple.
The White House said Obama offered his condolences and praised Justin and Stephanie Shults as epitomizing all that was good about America. Justin Shults was originally from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and his wife, Stephanie, was a native of Lexington, Kentucky.
A family member says they were dropping Stephanie's mother off at the airport when the bombs went off. The White House said the president also assured their parents that the thoughts, prayers and resolve of the nation are with them at this difficult time.
The Associated Press