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Belgium on high alert after police shoot dead two terror suspects -

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BRENDAN TREMBATH: Belgium is on high alert after a series of raids on suspected terror cells that ended with police shooting dead two men.

Belgian prosecutors say the men were about to launch attacks on a grand scale.

There are heightened fears across Europe of young Muslims going to fight in Syria and returning with radical views.

It's just over a week since Islamist extremists killed 17 people in a series of attacks in Paris.

Michael Edwards has this report.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: After an investigation that Belgian police say was weeks in the making, heavily-armed officers swooped on about 12 locations across the country, including the capital of Brussels.

During one such raid in the eastern town of Verviers, a group of suspects opened fire on the police. Two of the suspects were killed; another was arrested.

A number of eyewitnesses have described the gunfight to the local media.

EYEWITNESS (translated): About a good half an hour, 45 minutes. I left the supermarket near my house and there I saw a police car that drove past me, all lights flashing. And two seconds later, I heard three large explosions and then a burst of gunfire.

At first I thought about firecrackers, but 10 seconds later there was an extraordinary smell. Then I was heading home and it was smelling stronger and stronger and I knew it wasn't firecrackers. That's why I came here, and in two minutes, everything kicked off.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: All three were Belgian citizens, a country that has one of the biggest concentrations of European Islamists fighting in Syria.

The incident comes a little more than a week after the terror attacks in Paris.

Law enforcement officials say the men were planning attacks on police stations.

Belgium's terror threat rating has been raised to its second highest level.

Charles Michel is the Belgian prime minister.

CHARLES MICHEL (translated): The decision was taken after a meeting which was organised in the presence of my two ministerial colleagues to raise to level three on a scale of four the threat level in our country.

We are not aware of any specific or concrete threats, however, in the situation we can consider it is useful to raise the level of prudence and vigilance. That concretely means that complementary measures of protection and security will be taken for evident reasons that we are not going to communicate.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Earlier in the day, in an apparently unrelated development, police detained a man in southern Belgium whom they suspected of supplying weaponry to Amedy Coulibaly, the killer of four people at a Paris Jewish grocery store after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

The latest raids have again fuelled fears of European jihadists returning from fighting in Iraq and Syria to carry out attacks in their home countries.

Terrorism expert Andrew MacLeod from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC says what we are seeing is a marked change in the tactics used by terror cells.

ANDREW MACLEOD: One of the changes we've seen since the September 11 terrorist attacks is the wide spread of the internet and the impact we're seeing on the communication capacity for the terrorists to speak to the disaffected all over the world.

If you think back to September 11 - it wasn't that long ago - but back on September 11, there was no YouTube, there was no Twitter. So, the real danger that we're now facing is following IS's calls for lone wolf attacks is it's much easier for small groups of people to coordinate themselves and launch a free-standing attack against Western economies.

This is a real challenge we're now going to face and you'll be seeing it in Belgium, you'll be seeing it in France and I dare say at some point in Australia. We have to wake up and smell the coffee and realise as the terrorists have changed their strategy, we need to change our strategy to defeat them.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: What do you think is the best way to change our strategy?

ANDREW MACLEOD: We have a fundamental choice here. If this is going to turn into a culture war between us and them, we need to know who the us is and who the them is. If the us isn't moderates in the West with moderates in Islam against all sorts of radicals, then we'll push the moderates into the hands of the radicals and then we lose.

We need to recognise that the greatest number of victims of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist attacks are in fact moderate Muslims. We've got to find a way of working with moderate Muslims to tackle these radicals.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The raids come as more reports emerge of Australians going to fight in Syria and Iraq.

The Victorian Government says it's closely monitoring reports a Melbourne man has travelled to Syria to fight with Islamic State. A Facebook page in the 23-year old's name contains threats to "spill young Australians' blood".

It's estimated that as many as 80 Australians are fighting with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Michael Edwards.