- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

AMSTERDAM _ Police released all seven people arrested after an anonymous warning of a plot to plant bombs in an Amsterdam shopping district, prosecutors said Friday, easing fears that the Dutch capital was the target of a terrorist threat by Moroccan immigrants.

Police had offered no evidence to give credibility to the bomb threat, which coincided with the fifth anniversary of the deadly Madrid train bombings.

But the public prosecutors office defended the police response, which included closing a major entertainment and shopping district Thursday and arresting the suspects, all originally described as Dutch-Moroccans. The prosecutor later said at least two held only Moroccan nationality.

Spokeswoman Alexandra Oswald said the nature of the warning and information it contained had justified the action, but she did not elaborate.

After a day of interrogation and a search of locations linked to the suspects, the prosecutors office said all six men and a woman were freed for lack of evidence to support criminal allegations against them.

“No relationship with terrorist activity has been found based on statements and searches,” prosecutors said in a statement late Friday.

The swift action to lock down the shopping area around the ArenA football stadium, including an IKEA furniture store and a cinema complex, reflected the nervousness the Dutch have felt since the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-born Islamic fundamentalist angry over a short film criticizing the treatment of Muslim women.

Van Gogh’s killing was followed by a spate of terrorist alerts from within the country’s community of Moroccan immigrants.

One bold newspaper headline on Friday read: “Terror Threat Returns.”

“Escape from Bomb Onslaught,” read another.

The prosecutor said investigators were shifting their attention to tracking down the person who phoned in the tip from an unregistered cell phone in Belgium on Wednesday night, the fifth anniversary of the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people.

Police said one of the suspects arrested was a relative of an Islamic extremist involved in the attacks in the Spanish capital who committed suicide a few weeks later as police closed in.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende indicated the seriousness attached to the terror warning. “This shows that we must remain alert for threats to our security.”

But Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen said no explosives were found during the searches Thursday, and police said the sweep and the initial interrogation of the suspects provided no information that a serious threat remained.

The Dutch anti-terror coordination office said the country’s threat level remained unchanged at “substantial,” the second-highest on a four-step scale.

The level has been unchanged for months, with experts warning that the Netherlands remains a terror target mainly because of another film by an anti-Islam lawmaker criticizing the Quran.

In December, the outgoing anti-terror coordinator Tjibbe Joustra described the threat level as “substantial-plus” because of Geert Wilders’ film “Fitna.”

The Netherlands has had no terrorist attacks on the scale of the Madrid bombings or London public transport bombings in 2005, which killed 52 people.

Intelligence agencies have uncovered several alleged plots by Dutch Islamists, and a few are serving jail sentences. But the conviction rate has been relatively low, and courts have either acquitted suspects or given them short sentences because they had not actually carried out any attacks.

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