Dutch Detain Seven in Anti-Terrorism Sweep

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) - Police detained seven suspects Friday in a series of nationwide anti-terror raids aimed at thwarting a suspected plot to attack politicians and a government building, officials said.

The chief suspect in the raids in three cities was Samir Azzouz, a 19-year-old Dutch national of Moroccan descent who was acquitted of terrorism charges earlier this year, prosecutors said.

Azzouz was allegedly in the process of purchasing automatic weapons and explosives, "probably to carry out an attack with others on several politicians and a government building," a prosecution statement said.

The suspects, ranging from 18 to 30 years old, were detained in The Hague, Amsterdam and Almere. They will be brought before an investigating judge Monday.

Around two dozen officers in riot gear closed entrances leading to both houses of parliament and the government's information service. The weekly Cabinet meeting, however, went ahead as scheduled.

The National Terrorism Combat Coordinator boosted security at the Justice and Home Affairs ministries, the secret service and other government buildings as a precaution, a statement said, but it saw "no reason to increase the national terrorism threat level."

Police declined to give details about the raids, but there were reports of gunfire in the streets.

"I walked around the corner and saw someone waving a gun shooting in the street," an unidentified witness told the NOS broadcaster.

The arrests came just days after renewed threats against members of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders, both outspoken critics of Islamic extremism. Wilders filed charges earlier this week after receiving a threat.

The two went into hiding for several months after Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh's brutal slaying on an Amsterdam street, a year ago next month.

In September, the Dutch government introduced a U.S.-style terrorism threat gauge. A meter displayed on the Web site of the National Terrorism Combat Coordinator shows the country currently at the second-highest of four levels of danger.

Authorities have been on alert in the run-up to the first anniversary of Van Gogh's death, fearing another attack.

In December, a major terrorism trial will begin against 13 alleged members of the so-called Hofstad terrorism network believed linked to Van Gogh's murder and failed plots to attack politicians.

(c) 2005 Associated Press