BRUSSELS, Belgium – Belgian authorities on Friday charged six suspected Al Qaeda-linked extremists with membership in a terrorist group, including a woman whose husband was involved in the assassination of Afghanistan's top anti-Taliban warlord shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
The six, picked up in an anti-terror sweep Thursday, constituted the hard core of a terrorist group and included one militant who allegedly was plotting a suicide attack, spokeswoman Lieve Pellens of the federal prosecutor's office said Friday. Police carried out the raids hours before the start of a European Union summit of 27 government leaders in the Belgian capital.
Eight other suspects had been picked up Thursday but a judge decided that there was insufficient evidence to hold them, Pellens said.
All suspects under arrest are Belgian, and include Moroccan-born Internet writer Malika El Aroud, whose first husband died in the 2001 suicide attack in Afghanistan that killed anti-Taliban warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud.
El Aroud, the only woman among those arrested, writes online in French under the name of Oum Obeyda. Most of the other suspects are in their 20s or early 30s and only one of those was known from other terror investigations, Pellens said.
El Aroud was caught in a pre-Christmas terror sweep last year but was released because of insufficient evidence. She moved to Belgium from Morocco when she was very young, and began writing online after her husband's death.
Pellens said that despite a yearlong investigation, it remained unclear whether a terrorist attack was imminent. Nearly 250 police officers raided 16 locations in the capital and one in the eastern city of Liege early Thursday, confiscating computers, data storage equipment and a pistol.
Police considered they had to move at that point because it was too risky to have the suspects at large when the EU summit opened. Pellens said it was unlikely, though, that the suspects would have picked such a top-security target.
She said a possible terror attack might have been planned in Iraq, Pakistan or a European location.
Federal Prosecutor Johan Delmulle said one of the suspects had recently "said goodbye to his loved ones because he could go to paradise with a clear conscience."
Investigators waited a year before moving in — opting to ferret out the entire cell rather than a single part.
The investigation centered on people linked to 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 Qaeda in Afghanistan, had links with extremists in Britain, France and elsewhere in Europe.