Fourteen jihadist suspects have been arrested in Belgium for plotting the jailbreak of an al Qaeda operative imprisoned at a maximum security facility, sixty miles outside of Brussels. The arrests have set off extra security precautions across the country as Christmas approaches.
Police arrested the 14 in all-night raids across the country and discovered arms and explosives apparently intended for the jailbreak.
The prisoner, Nizar Trabelsi, a 37-year-old Tunisian who played soccer for several German teams, was sentenced to the maximum 10 years in jail four years ago. He had admitted planning to drive a car bomb into the canteen at Kleine Brogel, a Belgian air base where about 100 American military personnel are stationed.
Belgium currently resides on a state of high alert. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said in a statement, “Other acts of violence are not ruled out,” reports The New York Times. Belgium's federal prosecutor's office agreed with Verhofstadt, telling the AP, "If a group with an extremist view of Islam were ready to use arms and explosives to release Mr. Trabelsi, there is no guarantee that they would not use them for other ends."
Trabelsi was arrested by Belgian police in his apartment on September 13, 2001, where they discovered an Uzi submachine gun and a list of chemicals that could be used to produce explosives similar to those used in the East African embassy bombings of 1998, reports Agence France Presse and The Guardian.
Trabelsi testified that he had met Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, pledged loyalty to him, and asked to martyr himself.
Both the Belgian government and the U.S. Embassy have warned their respective citizens to be extra vigilant over the Christmas holiday.