Belgium rounds up 26 in anti-terror raids

23rd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Police busted Tuesday a Chechnya-linked Islamist network plotting to attack Belgium and rounded up another extremist group suspected of recruiting jihad fighters, amid heightened terrorism fears in Europe.

Authorities detained 11 people in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany as part of an investigation into a plot against an unspecified target in Belgium.

Hours later, Belgian officials announced the detention of some 15 people in Brussels in connection with a separate probe into a group suspected of recruiting would-be "jihadists" willing to do battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the first operation, a Chechen and six Belgian-Moroccan men were detained in the northern Belgian port city of Antwerp, three Dutch men in Amsterdam and a Russian national in Aachen, Germany, officials said.

"There were plans aimed at committing an attack in Belgium by an international terrorist group using for this purpose an extremist internet site, Ansar Al Mujahideen," said the Belgian prosecutor's office.

Belgian investigators spearheaded an international inquiry from 2009 into the suspect network, largely based in Antwerp.

"The target of the attack was not yet specifically determined," the prosecutor's office added, but there were "sufficient facts" to justify the raids.

No extra security measures will be enforced in Belgium, home to the European Union and NATO, a spokesman for the government's crisis centre said.

Those arrested are also suspected of recruiting "jihadist candidates" and financing "a Chechen terrorist organisation, the Caucasus Emirate".

A judge was to decide by Wednesday whether to keep them behind bars pending charges.

Belgian authorities said several other people had already been arrested in Spain, Morocco and Saudi Arabia as part of the same probe, conducted with other countries and the EU's judicial cooperation unit Eurojust.

The Belgian prosecutor's office announced later the arrest of "around 15 people" following searches in homes across Brussels in a pre-dawn operation aimed at "dismantling a group with terrorist characteristics".

The arrests followed a three-year investigation into the Belgian Assabil Islamic Centre, considered a hotbed for Muslim radicalism since the 1990s.

A French-Syrian imam from the centre, Bassam Ayachi, was sentenced to four years in prison in Italy in May 2009 for smuggling illegal immigrants and is under investigation in Al-Qaeda-linked plots in France and Britain.

Europe has been on high alert for several weeks over heightened concerns of possible terrorist attacks.

Western security officials have warned that Al-Qaeda may be planning attacks in Europe similar to those that struck the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.

On Monday the cupola of Germany's Reichstag parliament building was closed until further notice to visitors after media reports said the popular tourist site was a potential target for Islamist extremists.

Germany's interior ministry said Tuesday's arrests were not linked to recent security threats in the country.

In Denmark, intelligence services warned of new information "that foreign-based terrorist groups will try to send terrorists to Denmark to stage attacks" and urged police to be "extremely vigilant" ahead of Christmas.

The United States issued on October 3 a travel alert for its citizens travelling in Europe, citing the risk of potential terrorist attacks on transportation systems and tourist attractions.

© 2010 AFP

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