ROTTERDAM, Netherlands – Eight men have been arrested on suspicion of helping finance Al Qaeda and recruit fighters for Osama bin Laden's network, Dutch prosecutors said Monday.
The men, whose names have not been released, were detained Friday in different parts of the Netherlands, the National Prosecutor's Office said.
They appeared before a judge in Rotterdam and were charged with membership in a criminal organization, said spokesman Wim de Bruin. He said investigators haven't determined the men's nationalities.
The men are accused of providing financial and logistical services to Al Qaeda and recruiting fighters who were prepared to die for jihad, or Muslim holy war, a prosecution statement said. Four other suspects held briefly in the case were later released.
The National Intelligence Service opened investigations into the recruitment of jihad fighters in the Netherlands after two young Dutchmen of Moroccan origin were killed in Kashmir in January.
Ahmad el-Bakiouli, 20, and Khaliq el-Massnoui, 21, were killed by Indian border guards, three weeks after their parents reported them missing from the southern industrial city Eindhoven.
The men were shot after they stabbed two Indians in an apparent suicide attack at a paramilitary camp.
In a separate case, a judge in Rotterdam extended the custody of three suspects accused of plotting attacks against U.S. targets in France and Belgium. Officials have said they have not found any immediate link between the two cases.
Two Algerians, a Frenchman and a Dutchman are accused of running a terrorist support network out of a Rotterdam apartment to assist in strikes against the American Embassy in Paris and a U.S. munitions depot in Belgium.
Prosecutors started setting out the broad lines of their case and immediately requested more time to complete their investigation.
Algerian Mohammed Berkous and Frenchman Jerome Courtailler were detained with Saaid Ibrahim, a Dutchman of Ethiopian origin, two days after the Sept. 11 attacks in a European-wide sweep of groups suspected of links to Al Qaeda.
They have been in detention for nearly a year.
A fourth man, Algerian Amine Mezbar, was extradited to the Netherlands on July 19 from Canada to face similar charges.
Authorities have had trouble building their case against the men and were forced to release Ibrahim in February because of insufficient evidence. He is however still a suspect.
Prosecutors claim to have new evidence linking the men to terrorist activities, including their own dispositions in which they apparently revealed plans to strike at the military base in Belgium.
The Dutch cell allegedly worked in concert with Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian soccer player believed to have been the designated suicide bomber for the Paris attack, who was arrested on the same day in Belgium.
Defense lawyers for Courtailler and Berkous have demanded the release of their clients, arguing that the prosecution had presented no evidence of terrorism. They denied their clients had only a passing acquaintance with Trabelsi.
Although the Netherlands is reviewing legislation that would toughen punishments for terrorist-related crime, the four will be tried under old laws which may lead to lighter sentences if convicted.
Prosecutors say that besides the Paris embassy, the group targeted the Kleine-Brogel base in northeast Belgium, where around 100 U.S. Air Force personnel are stationed. Environmental groups claim the munitions dump also stores 26 B61 free-fall nuclear bombs.
France opened an investigation into the U.S. Embassy plot on Sept. 10 -- a day before the U.S. attacks. About a dozen people have been jailed in connection with the case, including Trabelsi, who remains in detention in Belgium awaiting trial.
In a raid of the Dutch house in the port city of Rotterdam, police found about 60 stolen documents, including 26 foreign passports, as well as video speeches by Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda network.
Mezbar's fingerprints were found at four sites where passports were stolen in the Netherlands in 1997 and 1999, according to the arrest warrant given to the Canadians.
Wiretaps cited in Mezbar's warrant linked Courtailler and Berkous to Trabelsi's plans to attack the U.S. Embassy in Paris this summer.