BRUSSELS, (Reuters) – Belgium arrested 14 suspects and stepped up security on Friday after thwarting what it said was a plot to spring from jail an al Qaeda suspect arrested in September 2001 for plotting attacks on U.S. targets.
“They were planning to use weapons and explosives to free him … These means could be employed for another use,” Lieve Pellens, spokeswoman for Belgium’s federal prosecutors, told a news conference. She added investigators were not aware of any other specific plan.
Pellens said authorities believed those arrested had sought to liberate Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian al Qaeda suspect who was arrested in Belgium for planning to attack U.S. targets. He subsequently told a radio station he had planned to target a Belgian airbase thought to house U.S. nuclear weapons.
Belgium hosts NATO, the European Union institutions and the offices of a raft of multinational companies.
Officials from the country’s crisis coordination centre said authorities were stepping up the police presence on transport networks, at airports and in commercial centres during the busy last-minute Christmas shopping season.