In a series of overnight raids around the country, police picked up 14 suspects and seized arms and explosives. The prime minister and prosecutor's office alleged the detained were planning to use the weapons to free Nizar Trabelsi, a 37-year-old Tunisian sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2003 for planning to a drive a car bomb into the cafeteria of a Belgian air base where about 100 American military personnel are stationed.
… Security services in several European nations suspect Trabelsi, who trained with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, had links with extremists in Britain, France and elsewhere in Europe....
Details about the identities of the suspects were not immediately released, but the RTL-TVI television network said one of those detained was Malika El Aroud, the Moroccan-born widow of one of the suicide bombers who killed Afghan anti-Taliban leader Ahmed Shah Massood two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
El Aroud, a Belgian resident, was acquitted in a Brussels court of involvement in Massood's killing in 2003. In June, she was convicted in Switzerland for supporting a criminal organization by running Web sites that posted statements from al-Qaida-linked groups and showed executions.She received a six-month prison sentence suspended for three years, which would keep her from going to jail unless she commits another punishable offense during the time.
This morning, however, we read that the 14 suspects have all been released, after a court decided there was insufficient evidence to hold them for more than 24 hours:
Both articles also provide information on the three-time loser, Nizar Trabelsi, that the islamists consider a "hero":
The government's Crisis Center said the investigation was not over. And Lieve Pellens, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, said tightened anti-terrorism measures triggered by the arrest of the suspected Islamic militants on Friday would remain in place over the holidays.
"We think there is still a threat," Pellens said in a telephone interview....
Unlike some other European nations, Belgium does not have anti-terrorist laws which allow suspects to be held for longer than 24 hours without charge, Pellens said.
Trabelsi came to Europe in 1989 for a tryout with the German soccer team Fortuna Duesseldorf. He got a contract but was soon let go. Over the next few years, he bounced from team to team in the minor leagues, acquiring a cocaine habit and a lengthy criminal record.
Eventually, he made his way to al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan, where evidence presented at his trial showed he placed himself on a "list of martyrs" ready to commit suicide attacks.
Trabelsi has admitted planning to kill U.S. soldiers. He said he met al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and asked to become a suicide bomber. He was arrested in Brussels two days after the Sept. 11 attacks and police later linked him to the discovery of raw materials for a huge bomb in the back of a Brussels restaurant.
"Trabelsi is an important figure for armed Islamic circles. He is a highly symbolic figure who has met Osama bin Laden," said Claude Moniquet, president of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a Brussels-based think tank specializing in terrorism issues.
UPDATE: A systematic cell by cell search has been concluded at Belgium’s Arlon prison, in relation to the arrests, according to the Belgian Le Soir newspaper. The entire prison was searched, with police dogs aiding the massive effort. This is the security facility where Tunisian terrorist Nizer Trabelsi had been serving his ten-year sentence, up until he had been transferred three weeks ago to a prison in Lantin, then more recently to Nivelles. The story says that the initial prison transfer was decided upon after suspicions grew about a possible escape attempt by Trabelsi. “Searches were made at the time of his leaving Arlon”, said Arlon prison director Marc Dizier. “Nothing was found relating to an escape attempt. Following new facts discovered Friday, new investigations have been made”, he added.