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Seven detained in anti-terror sweep

Sunday, October 16, 2005

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Police detained seven people in raids and placed a protective cordon around parliament and other government buildings Friday in an operation to disrupt an alleged plot to attack politicians and public buildings.

Among those reportedly seized was a Dutch-Moroccan who had been acquitted of terrorism-related charges earlier this year.

The raids, staged weeks before the first anniversary of the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical, underscored what officials believe to be an ongoing threat by cells of extremists targeting prominent Dutch personalities.

Officials said the suspects, ranging in age from 18 to 30, were detained in The Hague, Amsterdam and Almere. They will be brought before a judge Monday.

Around two dozen officers in riot gear closed entrances leading to both houses of parliament and the government's information service in The Hague. The weekly Cabinet meeting, however, went ahead as scheduled during the raids.

Police declined to give details about the raids.

A young woman from a Dutch-Moroccan family said she heard the police blast into the apartment next door.

"I heard a tremendous explosion. It was like it was coming through the wall," said the woman, who like others in the heavily immigrant neighborhood declined to give her name.

She said police in balaclava hoods hauled away a blindfolded man from the apartment and put him in a car with tinted windows.

Among those detained in the raids was Samir Azzouz, a 19-year-old Dutch national of Moroccan descent who was set free by a Dutch court for lack of evidence on charges of plotting attacks, prosecutors said.

Azzouz was allegedly in the process of purchasing automatic weapons and explosives, "probably to carry out an attack with others on several politicians and a government building," a prosecution statement said.

Prosecutors said the raids were linked to renewed threats against two members of parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders, both outspoken critics of Islamic extremism.

The two went into hiding for several months after Van Gogh's slaying on an Amsterdam street Nov. 2 in what the court called an act of Islamic terrorism.

An Amsterdam court ruled earlier Friday that Van Gogh's convicted killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, would face additional charges of belonging to the suspected terrorist organization known as the Hofstad network. He and 13 other members of the network will go on trial in December, although he already is serving a life sentence without parole -- the maximum allowed under Dutch law.

The office of the Dutch National Terrorism Combat Coordinator said it boosted security at the Justice and Home Affairs ministries, the secret service and other government buildings as a precaution, but saw "no reason to increase the national terrorism threat level."

In September, the Dutch government introduced a U.S.-style terrorism threat gauge, and the Web site of the National Terrorism Combat Coordinator on Friday showed the country at the second-highest of four levels of danger.


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