October 14, 2005

Dutch police arrest 7 in anti-terror swoop

By Niclas Mika and Nicola Leske

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Dutch police arrested seven people in
anti-terror raids on Friday on suspicion of plotting attacks
against politicians and government buildings.

The sound of shots or explosions was heard in The Hague,
the seat of the Dutch government, during raids there but it was
not clear what caused it or whether anyone was hurt.

The national anti-terrorism coordinator, Tjibbe Joustra,
said people suspected of "terrorist activities" were arrested
and police beefed up security at government buildings,
including the offices of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende in
The Hague.

The public prosecutor's office and the AIVD security
service confirmed the arrests but declined to say what
individuals or buildings those detained had planned to attack.

"Suspects were arrested in Almere, Amsterdam, and The
Hague. It concerns men aged 18 to 30 and a 24-year-old woman,"
said a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.

Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said those detained were
religious extremists and he was at pains to forestall a
backlash against the country's one-million-strong Muslim

"The suspects wanted to act on the basis of extremist
religious views," he told a televised news conference.

"They were only a few people who abuse Islam to justify
their actions. Had they succeeded, everyone, Muslims and
non-Muslims, would have become victim."


At the same news conference, Interior Minister Johan Remkes
said the suspects were linked to a militant Islamist network in
the Netherlands suspected of plots to kill leading politicians
critical of Islam.

"It concerns members of the Hofstad network. Despite
earlier arrests they have continued their activities. The group
has increased in size and consists of men and women," he said.

The Dutch government has said the country faces a
significant threat of becoming the target of a terrorist

Its security alert level has been at "substantial" since
the bombing attacks in London on July 7, the second highest in
a four-stage warning system.

Among those arrested on Friday was Samir Azzouz, 19,
suspected of being a member of the so-called "Hofstad" group
but who was acquitted in April of charges he planned attacks on
government buildings.

A Rotterdam court ruled there was not enough evidence to
convict him of plotting bomb attacks but sentenced him to three
months' imprisonment for illegal possession of weapons.

The national security alert level was increased in July
last year after Dutch authorities arrested Azzouz and found
machinegun ammunition, a bullet-proof vest, two mock explosive
devices, a silencer, maps and sketches of prominent buildings
at his home.

According to security sources, another of those held was
Jermaine Walters, also suspected earlier of membership of the
Hofstad group.

"Official reports from the AIVD indicate that (Azzouz) was
looking for automatic firearms and explosives," the spokesman
said. "Presumably he was preparing to carry out attacks...on
several politicians and a government building."


The Binnenhof -- a castle in The Hague that is the heart of
the Dutch government -- was closed off by police early in the
day, the first public indication that something had happened.

"The closure of the Binnenhof was a security measure,
because the cabinet was in session," Balkenende later told
Reuters Television.

"It's like being in America. I have a feeling I'm in danger
when I'm on the street now," said Andrea van Vliet, 17, in The
Hague. "There has been so much violence.

In another neighborhood, a dozen policemen with sniffer
dogs maintained a cordon around a ground-floor flat where a
window had been shattered, still seeking evidence five hours
after officers in ski masks stormed the house.

Witness Kay Stam said he heard two loud bangs and saw
police take one person away.

Twelve members of the Hofstad group were detained after
filmmaker Theo van Gogh was killed in November 2004. They face
trial for membership of a criminal organization and planning to
kill prominent politicians.

Van Gogh's murder prompted tit-for-tat attacks on mosques,
religious schools and churches. His self-confessed killer, an
Amsterdam-born Muslim, received a life sentence in July.

(Additional reporting by Karl Emerick Hanuska, Wendel
Broere, Lucas van Grinsven and Alexandra Hudson)