'Terror cell' arrested in Brussels connected to 'highest levels of al-Qaeda'
By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent | February 10, 2009
An alleged terrorist cell arrested as Gordon Brown prepared to meet European leaders in Brussels is said to have connections to the highest levels of al-Qaeda, it can be revealed.
The cell was suspected of being directed by a senior al-Qaeda planner.
According to Belgian counter-terrorism sources, the group was radicalised by a woman whose former husband has links to Abu Qatada, the radical preacher in jail in Britain.
Belgian police rounded up the alleged cell as European leaders gathered in the Belgian capital for a two-day summit in December to discuss the economic crisis and climate change.
Johan Delmulle, the Federal Prosecutor, claimed one suspect had "received the green light to carry out an operation from which he was not expected to come back" and added: "This information, linked to the fact that a European summit is getting underway at this moment in Brussels, left us no choice but to take action."
The group of five men and a woman was only charged with membership of a terrorist organisation because investigators were unable to positively identify their target.
But a CNN documentary, One Woman's War, to be broadcast on Tuesday evening claims that the alleged cell had high-level links to al-Qaeda.
Counter-terrorism officials told the programme that Moez Garsallaoui, who remains at large, had close connections with a senior al-Qaeda operative.
Garsallaoui traveled to Afghanistan in November 2007 and sent an email to his wife a few months later with a picture of him firing an RPG, to which she replied: "You are so beautiful."
A few weeks later he sent her another email declaring that he had killed five Americans in Afghanistan and she told him: "Congratulations. I wish I was there with you."
The emails were intercepted by US counter-terrorism agencies and passed on to Belgium authorities by the FBI.
In September Garsallaoui posted a message on his wife's website, "Minbar SOS", which appeared to urge followers to launch an attack in Europe, telling them: "The solution my brothers and sisters is not fatwas [religious rulings] but boooooms."
Garsallaoui's wife is Malika el-Aroud, 48, who is said to be at the centre of the Belgian cell.
Her first husband is a hero in al-Qaeda circles after assassinating the anti-Taliban leader Ahmed Shah Massoud a few weeks before the September 11 attacks.
Abdessattar Dahmane smuggled himself into Massoud's inner circle with the pretence of conducting a TV interview before blowing up the Northern Alliance leader, seriously damaging the forces fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Belgian investigators have revealed that the assassin visited Britain en-route to Afghanistan and stayed with an associate of Qatada.
It is thought that he wanted religious advice from Qatada and advice from another radical based in Britain, Abu Doha.
Qatada was returned to jail in December after allegedly planning to abscond while on bail pending deportation to Jordan on terrorism charges.
The Daily Telegraph is legally banned from revealing the whereabouts of Abu Doha.
Several of the men arrested in Belgium had allegedly been to training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border and Paul Cruickshank, a fellow at New York University who produced the documentary, said: "A growing number of continental European recruits are being drawn to the tribal areas of Pakistan to receive terrorist training. Not since 2000 have so many young recruits been traveling to this region.
"The tribal areas of Pakistan have replaced Iraq as the destination of choice for European wannabe jihadists."
One Woman’s War, presented by CNN’s Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson, airs at 6.30pm on Tuesday on CNN International.