Accessibility links

Belgian Authorities Arrest bin Laden Recruiter - 2001-12-19


Belgian authorities have arrested a man Tuesday suspected of recruiting Muslims for training at Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan.

The man, a Belgian citizen of Tunisian origin, is suspected by Italian magistrates of being one of al-Qaida's three top coordinators in Europe.

His name is Tarek Maaroufi. According to the Brussels prosecutor's office, he was arrested on charges of criminal association and recruiting for a foreign military organization.

Al-Qaida is not mentioned in the warrant for Mr. Maaroufi's arrest. But spokesman Jos Colpin of the prosecutor's office, when asked if the foreign military organization were al-Qaida, said he assumes that is the case.

Mr. Maaroufi, 36, is wanted by Italian authorities as a central figure in planning an attack a year ago in Strasbourg, France. That attack was disrupted after a rare example of coordination between French, German and Italian police.

But Belgium refuses to extradite one of its own citizens to another country. So Mr. Maaroufi has lived in Brussels freely, although under surveillance.

European Union heads of state and government have approved eliminating cumbersome extradition procedures and replacing them with a single European arrest warrant that would allow for the transfer of someone like Mr. Maaroufi to the country where he is wanted.

But the details of the new measure still have to be worked out, and Mr. Colpin, of the Brussels prosecutor's office, says Belgium will not send him to Italy, but Italian officials can come to Belgium to question him.

Belgian police are stepping up a probe into the disappearance of passports from Belgium's embassy in the Netherlands and its consulate in Strasbourg. Two of the stolen passports were recovered from the bodies of suicide bombers who blew up Ahmad Shah Masood, the military commander of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, just before the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Three men of North African origin have been detained by Belgian police in connection with the passport theft and Mr. Masood's assassination. Mr. Maaroufi is also being charged with falsifying passports.

This is not Mr. Maaroufi's first brush with the law. In 1995, he was arrested for his links to a cell in Brussels operated by Algeria's Armed Islamic Group. But he got off with a three year suspended sentence.

XS
SM
MD
LG