Sat, Mar 14, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Seven terrorist suspects arrested in Netherlands

AP AND DPA , AMSTERDAM

Dutch police evacuate the Villa Arena shopping mall in Amsterdam on Thursday after a threat of a possible bomb plot caused the evacuation and day-long closure of various shops.

PHOTO: AFP

Dutch police said yesterday they were questioning six men and a woman who were arrested following an anonymous tip of a terrorist threat against a popular shopping area in Amsterdam.

The warning came in a call from an unregistered phone in Belgium, and appeared to be linked to the train bombings in Madrid exactly five years earlier. Police said one of those detained is a relative of an Islamic extremist involved in the Madrid attacks who committed suicide a few weeks later as police closed in.

The Madrid bombings killed 191 people and injured 2,000 others.

Police said all those detained were Dutch nationals of Moroccan descent. Their identities were not released.

Authorities were to decide later yesterday whether to keep the seven, aged between 19 and 64, in detention until they are brought before a judge.

The tip came on Wednesday night, Dutch Police Commissioner Bernard Welten said.

Welten said the informant, who used a prepaid mobile phone that was later traced to Brussels, told the police the alleged terrorists intended to kill as many people as possible in Amsterdam.

The informant said three explosives had been placed in various places in the shopping mall. He gave the Dutch police specific addresses and the location and details of a van that was allegedly used by the suspects.

On Thursday morning, police sealed off the area around a large Ikea furniture store and warehouse, and a nearby street of popular electronics and sporting goods stores adjacent to the Amsterdam Arena soccer stadium.

The stores remained shut on Thursday but were given the all-clear to reopen yesterday. Police kept a strong presence in the area.

A concert by the US rock group The Killers was postponed on Thursday night because the venue was near the stadium. The concert was rescheduled for later this month.

Searches and interrogations on Thursday provided no information that a serious threat remained, police said in a statement.

Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen said no explosives were immediately found during the searches.

The Dutch anti-terror coordination office said the country’s threat level remained unchanged at “substantial,” the second-highest on a four-step scale.

The level has been unchanged for months, with experts warning that the Netherlands remains a terror target mainly because of an anti-Islam lawmaker’s film criticizing the Koran.

All intelligence services were put on alert and requested to provide information about the suspects.

National Anti-Terrorism Coordinator Theo Bot said there was no reason to take extra measures to thwart possible future terrorist attacks in the Netherlands.

Police said more arrests could be made in a later stage.

Special patrols took place by the military police in the shopping area, and a police helicopter circled over the area.

In December, the outgoing anti-terror coordinator Tjibbe Joustra described the threat level as ­“substantial-plus” because of Geert Wilders’ film Fitna.

The Netherlands has had no terrorist attacks on the scale of the Madrid bombings or London Underground bombings in 2005, which killed 52 people. But intelligence agencies have uncovered several alleged plots by Dutch Islamists, and several are serving jail sentences.

The country has been on alert against Islamic extremism since the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

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