Antiterror sweep nets 14 in Belgium
By Sebastian Rotella | Los Angeles Times | December 12, 2008
MADRID - In a major antiterrorism sweep carried out as European leaders arrived in Brussels for a summit, Belgian police yesterday arrested 14 suspects allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, including one who police said might have been close to launching a suicide attack.
The arrests were made by 242 officers who executed 16 searches in Brussels and Liege, Belgium, while French police arrested two more suspects tied to the group, antiterrorism officials said.
The raids came after a yearlong investigation in which police tracked militants, mainly Belgians and French of North African origin, who traveled to Al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, fought against Western troops and then returned to Europe, investigators said.
Authorities said they grew alarmed during the past week when surveillance showed that a key suspect returned from South Asia last year and began making what police suspected were preparations for a suicide attack.
Investigators feared an attack might target the 27 leaders of the European Union who began a two-day summit in Brussels yesterday.
"We don't know where this suicide attack was envisioned," chief federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle said 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 [was] a target."
The investigation featured one of the largest recent deployments of antiterrorism investigators and wiretaps in Belgium.
The allegations resemble a pattern detected in Britain and other European countries: Militants travel to the Afghan-Pakistani border zone and return to target their homelands, often directed from afar by Al Qaeda masterminds.
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