Nine held on Islamist-linked terror charges in Belgium

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Nine people picked up by Belgian police in two separate swoops against a Chechnya-linked Islamist network and a group recruiting Afghan fighters were thrown behind bars on terror charges Wednesday.

In dawn swoops Tuesday, police rounded up 11 people in three countries -- Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands -- suspected of plotting an attack in Belgium, which hosts NATO and the European Union.

Judicial authorities also announced the detention in Brussels the same day of 15 people accused of recuiting volunteers to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The seven people detained in Antwerp and two of the 15 detained in Brussels were placed under arrest for participating in a terrorist group," a spokeswoman for the Belgian prosecutor's office, Leen Nuyts, told AFP.

A Chechen and six Belgian-Moroccans were detained in the northern Belgian port city of Antwerp, home to large Jewish and Moslem communities. Three Dutch people of Moroccan origin were detained in Amsterdam and German police arrested one of Chechen origin in Aachen.

Those 11 suspects, picked up after an international inquiry started in 2009, were suspected both of plotting an attack in Belgian and of recruiting candidates and funds for militant Chechen rebels the Caucasus Emirate.

The spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that "their exact target (in Belgium) had not been determined" on their arrest.

No extra security measures have been enforced in Belgium, a spokesman for the government's crisis centre said.

The Caucasus Emirate is a rebel Chechen organisation headed by Doku Umarov, which claimed this year's attacks on the Moscow metro that killed 40 people.

Umarov for years has led a rebellion that has morphed from a separatist insurgency seeking independence for Chechnya from Moscow to a broader Islamist movement looking to establish an "Emirate" across the Caucasus mountains.

The insurgency has now spread from Chechnya into the neighbouring regions of Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Extradition proceedings have been launched to transfer to Belgium the suspects detained in the Netherlands and Germany, Nuyts said.

Of the 15 others detained in Brussels the same day in an unrelated probe over the recruitment of volunteers to join the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, 13 were released.

Police searches in homes across Brussels in the pre-dawn swoop 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.

© 2010 AFP

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