Al Qaeda suspects held in Belgium planned suicide attack
December 11, 2008
Belgium detains al-Qaeda suspects
Belgian police say they have detained 14 people suspected of being members of the al-Qaeda network.
They include a man believed to have been about to launch a suicide attack, officials said.
Federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle said police did not know where the suspected suicide attack was to have targeted.
The detentions came as a two-day European Union leaders' summit was due to start in the Belgian capital, Brussels, on Thursday afternoon.
A total of 242 police officers carried out 16 raids in Brussels and one in the eastern city of Liege, officials said.
Police seized computers, data storage equipment and a pistol during the raids, reports say, and the men and women arrested are due to appear before anti-terrorism judges later.
Mr Delmulle said the suspects could have been targeting Pakistan or Afghanistan, "but it can't be ruled out that Belgium or Europe could have been the target".
The man suspected of planning the suicide attack had "received the green light to carry out an operation from which he was not expected to come back", Mr Delmulle quoted investigators as saying.
"He had said goodbye to his loved ones, because he wanted to enter paradise with a clear conscience," he added.
"This information, linked to the fact that the EU summit is being held in Belgium at the moment, left us with no choice but to intervene today."
The police investigation, described as the most important anti-terror inquiry in Belgium, targeted an alleged group of Belgian Islamists believed to have been trained in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region, officials said, according to the AFP agency.
The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Brussels says the investigation that led to the detentions appears to have been at least a year old.
Last December, 14 people arrested by Belgian police on suspicion of plotting to free a convicted al-Qaeda member were released without charge. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7777312.stm
--------------------------------------Belgium, fearing terrorist attack, arrests 14 suspects
Police act after a year of tracking militants allegedly linked to Al Qaeda. One was believed to be plotting a suicide attack, possibly targeting the European Union summit in Brussels.
By Sebastian Rotella 12:19 PM PST, December 11, 2008 From the Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-terror12-2008dec12,0,4526711.story Reporting from Madrid — In a major anti-terror sweep carried out as European leaders arrived in Brussels for a summit, Belgian police today arrested 14 suspects allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, including one believed to be on the verge of launching a suicide attack. The arrests were made by 242 officers who carried out 16 searches in Brussels and the eastern city of Liege. French police arrested an additional suspect tied to the group, anti-terror officials said. The raids culminated a yearlong investigation in which Belgian anti-terror police tracked militants, mainly Belgians and French of North African origin, as the suspects traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan, trained with Al Qaeda and fought against Western troops, then returned to Europe, investigators said. Authorities said they grew alarmed during the last week when surveillance showed that a Belgian suspect returned from South Asia on Dec. 4. He began making classic preparations for a suicide attack, they said, such as saying goodbye to family and discussing an apparent "martyrdom" video. Investigators feared that an attack might target the 27 leaders of the European Union who began a two-day summit in Brussels today. "We don't know where this suicide attack was envisioned," said Johan Delmulle, Belgium's chief federal prosecutor, at a news conference. "It could concern an operation in Pakistan [or] Afghanistan, but it could not be totally ruled out that Belgium or Europe were a target. "This information, connected to the fact that a European summit is underway at this moment in Brussels, evidently left no choice to the magistrates and federal prosecutors," he said. "It was therefore decided to intervene today." The arrests marked one of the larger recent cases brought against Islamic militants in Belgium. Investigators said it revealed a pattern that exists in other countries: European militants travel to the Aghan-Pakistani border zone to undergo training with Al Qaeda and return to target their homelands, often directed by Pakistan-based masterminds. Among those arrested today and identified as a group leader was Malika Aroud, the Belgian widow of an Al Qaeda suicide bomber who killed anti-Taliban warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan two days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, authorities said. Despite repeated attempts to prosecute her, Aroud had remained free and maintained a high profile in the media and militant circles. According to authorities, Aroud's second husband, Moez Garsaouli, established himself in Pakistan during the past year and oversaw the travel of at least four Belgian recruits through Turkey and Iran to training camps and battle zones in South Asia. "The investigation shows that direct contacts exist between the group around the suspect M.G. located in Pakistan and in Afghanistan and important people in the Al Qaeda organization," Delmulle said. Two Belgian anti-terror officials confirmed that M.G. referred to Garsaouli. Last year, the couple were among a dozen suspects arrested in a pre-Christmas operation. Prosecutors said then that they had detected parallel plots to free an Al Qaeda convict from a Belgian prison and carry out a bombing in Brussels. However, the suspects were all promptly released without charges, a frequent occurrence in a nation that has weaker anti-terror laws than its European neighbors. Nonetheless, Belgium's justice and interior ministers told reporters today the investigation that began a year ago has shown that a threat existed last December and that some of the suspects only intensified activity connected to Al Qaeda. Rotella is a Times staff writer. Times staff writer Achrene Sicakyuz in Paris contributed