BRUSSELS — Belgian authorities raided homes yesterday and detained 14 suspects with links to a terrorist network that sent volunteers to Iraq, including a Belgian woman who carried out a suicide attack on an American patrol in Baghdad, officials said.
Security sources think this was the first suicide attack in Iraq involving a European woman.
French police in the Paris region also arrested a 27-year-old Tunisian man suspected of having contacts with the Belgian group, judicial officials said.
Belgian authorities “want to dismantle this network which we knew was on our territory and which aimed to send volunteers for the jihad to the battlefield,” the federal police director, Glenn Audenaert, told reporters, referring to the Arabic word that among extremists can mean holy war in addition to its definition as the Islamic concept of the struggle to do good.
Mr. Audenaert said the members of the network “embraced the ideology of al Qaeda.” But he did not describe the group as an al Qaeda cell, and it was not clear to what extent, if any, it was linked to Osama bin Laden’s organization.
The woman, known only as Mireille, came from a middle-class background in the southern city of Charleroi, said officials close to the investigation.
Mireille’s life changed when she married a man of Belgian and Moroccan ancestry, who turned her into a Muslim radical, officials said. She eventually traveled with her husband to Iraq through Syria and, with bombs strapped to her body, tried to kill as many American troops as possible, they said.
U.S. officials said the woman was the only person killed in the attack against the American patrol on Nov. 9. The husband was thought to have died in Iraq at some point before his wife.
“It is the first time that we see that a Western woman, a Belgian, marries a radical Muslim, is converted up to the point of becoming a jihad fighter,” Mr. Audenaert told VRT network. “It is a new generation and, perversely, emancipation allows women to aspire to martyrdom.”
Officials said the ideology of the group was not fed by poverty.
“Not that they come from a wealthy bourgeoisie, but the people lived, on the face of it, a normal existence,” Mr. Audenaert said.
Nine of the 14 suspects arrested yesterday were Belgian, of whom two had foreign roots. Three were Moroccan and two were Tunisian.
The Tunisian arrested in France is suspected of having been in contact with one of those held in Belgium and is thought to have known the husband of the suicide bomber.
More than 200 police officers carried out the raids and detained 11 persons in Brussels, the capital, and one each in southern Charleroi, northern Antwerp and eastern Riemst.
Belgium has been mentioned as a breeding ground for terrorists, and 13 Belgian and Moroccan nationals are on trial on suspicion of being members of an Islamic group accused in recent bomb attacks in Spain and Morocco.