First female suicide bomber in Iraq was Belgian convert wife of Muslim - attack leads to arrest of 14 in suicide bomber recruiting network in Belgium
November 30, 2005
By Emma Davis
BRUSSELS, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Police in Belgium and France arrested 15 people on Wednesday in a roundup of suspected Islamist militants believed to be linked to a Belgian woman who carried out a suicide bombing in Iraq this month.
The 38-year-old convert to Islam blew herself up on Nov. 9 on the outskirts of Baghdad in what security sources believe was the first suicide attack in Iraq involving a European woman.
Belgian police arrested 14 people and seized documents in raids centred on Brussels and Antwerp. They arrested two Tunisians, three Moroccans and the rest were Belgian nationals, Lieve Pellens, spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor, told Reuters.
The fifteenth suspect was arrested close to Paris.
The group had been under surveillance for four months after Belgium received intelligence about a suspected terrorist cell operating on its soil, but the suicide bomber had slipped out of the country unnoticed.
"It was through this organisation that the lady went to Iraq with her husband, but we only knew about her presence ... once she was already there," said Glenn Audernaert, a senior law enforcement official.
Police brought forward the raids by a couple of weeks after leaks in the French media about the investigation, but Audernaert said the raids had netted all the suspects.
They were detained under Belgium's new anti-terrorist law, which defined terrorism as a crime for the first time.
The woman's identity was not disclosed, but officials said she was born in Belgium of European origin and converted to Islam after marrying a Muslim.
One of the chief suspects arrested on Wednesday was a male Belgian convert to Islam, a police spokesman said.
"We know these groups are always planning attacks ... What we can say is there were no attacks planned in Europe," he said.
No explosives or weapons were found in the raids but police found evidence linking the suspects to what he called a terrorist organisation focused on Iraq.
He would not name the group but said it was not the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (GICM) which is held responsible for the 2004 Madrid attacks on commuter trains that killed 191 people.
De Standaard newspaper earlier quoted a U.S. official in Iraq as saying the Nov. 9 attack targeted a U.S. military convoy south of Baghdad. No one was killed apart from the woman herself, it reported.
It added a Belgian passport was found on her body, with papers which showed she had entered Iraq via Turkey.
Belgium, home to European Union institutions and NATO, has suffered no attacks but is thought to have been used as a rear base for Islamic militants active elsewhere.
Earlier this month, 13 men accused of belonging to the GICM, which is also blamed for bombings in Casablanca where 45 people were killed, went on trial in Brussels.
They face charges of providing false papers, safe houses and logistical help to members of the GICM in the Madrid attacks.
German federal police chief Joerg Ziercke referred earlier this month to estimates that "perhaps 200 young people are fighting in Iraq from European countries".
A French intelligence chief said in May that five young men from a Paris suburb had died in Iraq, one in a suicide attack.
Spain arrested 16 suspected Islamist militants in June including 11 alleged followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leader in Iraq. It said many of the Zarqawi supporters had expressed the will to become "martyrs for Islam" there. (Additional reporting by Mark Trevelyan in Berlin)
Europe's woman suicide bomber
More than 200 officers arrested 15 suspects in four cities three weeks after the 38-year-old woman, who converted to Islam after marrying a Moroccan Islamist radical, earned her grisly place in history.
According to De Standaard, Belgium's main Flemish newspaper, the woman attempted to target a US military convoy south of Baghdad on November 9. A US official told the paper that she was the only person who died, but other media reports spoke of five or six deaths.
One Belgian official gave the woman's first name as Murielle and said she lived in Brussels and that her parents were from a middle-class district of Charleroi. A Belgian passport was found on her body with papers showing that she had entered Iraq via Turkey. She had apparently entered the country by car with her husband. He died in Iraq in a separate incident.
After the woman's nationality was confirmed by Belgium's security service, the SŻretť de l'Etat, police in Paris arrested a 27-year-old Tunisian man who is believed to have known the woman's husband. The man, who moved to France several months ago, was arrested in the suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis.