Belgian police holds back two after dawn incursions on Islamic center, apartments

Belgian police detained two people for questioning after dawn raids on an Islamic community center and several apartments in the capital, justice officials said Thursday. The raids in Brussels were focused on complaints against the Belgian Islamic Center that it was responsible for spreading extremist hate literature and was involved in human trafficking, Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx said.

"It's not about an anti-terror operation," Onkelinx said. Federal Police official Glen Audenaert, however, said the raids were linked to hunting down Muslim extremists.

"We believe that extremism is a breeding ground for terrorism," he told VRT radio.

Police said 100 officers were used in the raids on 17 addresses including the Islamic center.

Police confiscated several computers and were seen taking away several boxes full of documents from the center, which serves as a mosque and cultural hub for the local Muslim community.

The leader of the center, Sheik Bassam Ayachi, has been linked to previous anti-terror investigations in Belgium, and is alleged to have been active in recruiting militants to be trained in Afghanistan, media reported. He was not one of those detained Thursday, officials said.

Ayachi has denied the recruitment allegations against him. Police have launched several raids in the past few months. In December, 14 suspects were rounded up in raids across Belgium, five of whom were formally charged with membership in a terror network that allegedly sent bombers to Iraq.

There are now 13 Belgian and Moroccan nationals on trial for allegedly being members of an Islamic group suspected in recent bomb attacks in Spain and Morocco, reports the AP.


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