Belgium police detained Thursday 14 people suspected of having ties to
al-Qaida. Reports suggest they may have been planning a terrorist
attack - possibly timed to coincide with an EU summit in Brussels.
The 14 suspected extremists were arrested in raids in the Belgium capital in an the eastern part of the country. Wire services report that one of those arrested may have been plotting a suicide attack. Federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle told reporters there was no choice but to intervene and arrest the suspects on Thursday.
During the raids police confiscated computer, data storage equipment and a pistol among other material. But details of the raids and the possible attacks remain sketchy. According to some news reports, the attacks may have been timed to coincide with a two-day European Union summit in Brussels which started on Thursday.
The suspects reportedly traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan and may have drawn up plans to stage an attack in either place.
Bob Ayers, an international security and intelligence expert based in London, said that Belgium is an obvious target for potential terrorists.
"The obvious explanation is that Belgium houses the seat of the EU," said Ayers. "It is the capital of the EU government. And if you can strike against the capital, you send a message to all the members of the European Union."
Still, Ayers cautions against immediately assuming the arrests are linked with the EU summit taking place.
What's clear is that this is hardly the first time Belgian authorities have cracked down on suspected extremists. Police made similar arrests last year, and stepped up security at the Brussels airport and other key hubs.
In 2003, a Belgian court sentenced Tunisian soccer player Nizar Trabelsi to 10 years for plotting to drive a car bomb into the cafeteria of a Belgian air base where roughly 100 American security personnel were stationed. Trabelsi was found to have links to al-Qaida.