Dutch police arrested seven men Thursday suspected of plotting to carry out a “major terrorist attack” at a public event using explosive belts and an AK-47 assault rifle, the public prosecutor’s office said.
“Police arrested seven men on Thursday… suspected of being at a very advanced stage of preparation for a major terrorist attack in the Netherlands,” it said in a statement, adding one of the suspects had wanted to kill “many victims”.
Prosecutors and investigators were “convinced that a terrorist attack was prevented” as a result of the arrests in the cities of Arnhem and Weert which followed a months-long police operation.
Officers had placed a group of people under surveillance, a central figure being a 34-year-old man of Iraqi origin convicted in 2017 of attempting to reach territory controlled by the jihadist Islamic State group, the statement added.
Those arrested by elite special anti-terrorist police teams with helicopter support ranged in age from 21 to 34.
The suspects came from Arnhem, the port city of Rotterdam and villages close to those two cities. Two others in the group also had convictions related to attempts to travel to Iraq or Syria.
“One of the men from Arnhem wanted to commit an attack with a group at a major event in the Netherlands and kill many victims, according to the Dutch Intelligence Service (AIVD),” the prosecutor’s office said.
Police had yet to identify the target of the planned attack which the prosecutor’s office said was to have included a separate car bombing.
The suspects, who investigators said said were in possession of small arms when they were detained, are expected to appear in court in Rotterdam on Friday.
“They were seeking AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, explosive belts and raw materials with which to make other bombs,” investigators said.
– Dutch on alert –
The arrests came three months after two men were arrested in Rotterdam on suspicion of preparing attacks in France and in the Netherlands. Prosecutors said earlier this month they were “close” to launching their attack.
There has been no mention of what the target in France might have been.
In the Netherlands the pair are said to have staked out and “identified several possible targets” in Rotterdam, including “a police station and the Erasmus Bridge”, the country’s second largest.
On August 31, an Afghan aged 19 and with a German residence permit stabbed and injured two American tourists at Amsterdam’s busy Central Station before being shot.
The prosecutor’s office said he had chosen the Netherlands for the attack believing Islam to be “frequently insulted” there.
The Amsterdam incident came following a Taliban call for attacks on Dutch troops after far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders organised a Prophet Muhammed cartoon competition.
Many Muslims consider images of the prophet to be blasphemous.
The likelihood of a terror attack in the Netherlands “remained substantial”, the Dutch anti-terror agency NCTV said last week, with terror threat levels remaining at level four out of five.