Dutch police arrested seven suspected Islamic militants in raids across the country Wednesday, heightening concerns that global terrorism is spreading to this normally peaceful corner of Europe.
Three policemen were injured by an explosive booby trap and a hand grenade as special forces raided a house in a working-class district of The Hague. Police used tear gas to flush out two armed terror suspects, ending a 15-hour standoff.
One of the suspects was shot in the shoulder and taken away by ambulance.
Police later arrested a third suspect in the central city of Amersfoort and four more in Amsterdam in what they called an ongoing terrorism investigation.
National police spokesman Marc van Erven said the suspects belonged to “a network of radical Muslims” but did not give any details.
The drama in The Hague, known as the City of Peace for the international peace institutions based here, came a week after the slaying of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who had criticized Islam in a controversial film.
The siege ended when police escorted a bare-chested man from the scene in handcuffs and a blindfold and placed him on a stretcher in an ambulance.
Booby trap injures three police
The operation began at 2:45 a.m. when a booby trap surprised forces as they forced open the door of the house. Shooting then erupted, and a suspect threw a grenade out the front door, witnesses said.
Three officers were injured, one of them seriously, police said.
Hundreds of police and soldiers converged on the scene in the Laak neighborhood behind the Hollands Spoor railway station in The Hague. Police helicopters hovered overhead, and at least a dozen SWAT teams stood ready as police evacuated the neighborhood and snipers took up position.
Eight to 10 gunshots rang out shortly after 4 p.m., reports said, and black-masked special forces stormed the house just before nightfall to end the standoff.
The area remained closed off Wednesday night as police searched the house for explosives.
Sylvia Cordia, 42, who lives across the street from the house, said she saw several explosions in the raid. “I saw one policeman crumble to the ground, and another was dragged away to safety.”
“There were several people in the house, and I heard a man yelling, ‘I’ll chop your head off’ and yelling profanities,” she said.
There were no immediate details on the arrests in Amsterdam and Amersfoort.
Cycle of reprisal
Tensions have been high in the Netherlands since van Gogh was killed in Amsterdam eight days ago, with more than a dozen arson attacks against churches and mosques. An Islamic school in Eindhoven was bombed Monday night, and another in Uden was burned down Tuesday. No injuries were reported.
Van Gogh had received death threats after the release of his most recent movie about the treatment of women under Islam.
Six suspects, believed to be members of a radical Islamic terrorist group, were under arrest in connection with the van Gogh slaying, including the alleged killer, 26-year-old Bouyeri, who holds dual Dutch and Moroccan citizenship.
Geneva daily Le Temps reported that a suspect jailed in Switzerland, Mohamed Achraf, had telephone contact in September with Bouyeri.
Achraf’s alleged group of Spanish-based Islamic extremists is suspected of plotting to bomb the National Court in Madrid, a hub for anti-terror investigations, as well as other targets.
In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende interrupted a parliamentary debate on the European Union to discuss the country’s crisis.
“Extremism is reaching the roots of our democracy,” he said Wednesday. “We cannot let ourselves be blinded by people who seek to drag us into a spiral of violence.
Balkenende condemned the cycle of reprisals. “We have to utterly reject this violence, altogether, because we’re being un-Dutch,” he said.