Suspected al-Qaeda chief arrested in Brussels raid
2 February 2005
BRUSSELS – A Moroccan man suspected of helping to mastermind last year’s deadly train bombings in Madrid has been arrested in Brussels.
Twenty-eight-year-old Youssef Belhadj was arrested in Molenbeek on Tuesday after the Spanish police issued an international arrest warrant for him.
He was due to appear in court in Brussels on Wednesday.
Spanish investigators think Belhadj could be Abu Dujanah, the man who appeared on a video tape a few days after the Madrid massacre, saying he was al-Qaeda’s spokesman in Europe.
In the recording, he stated al-Qaeda was responsible for the bombing of the 11 commuter trains – the most deadly terrorist attack Spain has ever seen, which killed 191 people and injured more than 1,500.
On Wednesday, the Belgian media claimed that the arrest of Belhadj the previous day was almost bungled.
They said the Spanish police told the media that an arrest warrant had been issued for Al Qaeda suspect before before a Spanish judge had informed his Belgian counterparts of the request.
The police made their announcement after four Moroccans were arrested in Madrid suspected of being part of the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group (MICG), which is believed to be linked to al-Qaeda.
Lieve Pellens, a spokesperson for the Belgium prosecutor’s office, said Belhadj’s name went out through press agencies and the radio minutes before the Belgian judicial authorities were asked to arrest him.
When police went to his home, he was not there, but he was later found and arrested in the street.
Belhadj had been arrested in March because he was suspected of being part of the MICG, but he was conditionally released in June because of a lack of evidence.
The Spanish daily El Mundo said the suspect would appear before a Belgian court first and then, in accordance with Belgian law, would be extradited to Spain within 20 days or on a date agreed by both the Belgian and Spanish judicial authorities.
Belhadj’s arrest in Brussels comes as Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx admits Belgium was a target for two planned terrorist attacks last year.
Her office said that in April 2004 Muslim extremists intended to attack both a railway tunnel for high speed trains and a Jewish school in Antwerp.
The plans were foiled thanks to a police informer.
Onkelinx’s comments have led some commentator’s to question just how much the Belgian authorities are telling the population about possible terror attacks.
Throughout last year the Belgian Government always insisted that the country did not face any specific terrorist threats.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Belgian news