Terror suspect previously caught taking selfies at airbase: report

Members of a Dutch police SWAT team (Stock Photo: Politie)Members of a Dutch police SWAT team (Stock Photo: Politie)

The youngest of the suspected terrorists arrested on Thursday, was previously arrested for taking selfies with F-16 fighter jets at the military airbase in Volkel, according to the Telegraaf. At that time 21-year-old Wail el A. was already once convicted for a failed attempt to travel to Syria and join a terrorist organization there, the newspaper writes.

El A. was one of seven men arrested in a large police action in Arnhem and Weert on Thursday. They are suspected of planning a major terrorist attack at an event in the Netherlands. The group was in possession of weapons when they were arrested.

In May last year El A. was working as a temp at the Volkel airbase. He was arrested after officers of the Koninklijke Marechaussee, a policing force that works as part of the Dutch military, saw him taking pictures and acting suspiciously. After his arrest it turned out that he was previously convicted and sentenced to two years in prison for trying to travel to Syria to join the armed struggle. The Public Prosecutor investigated the photos El A. took and concluded that he had not done anything illegal.

According to the newspaper, El A. is friends with Arnhem jihadist Marouane B., who did travel to Syria and is believed to still be there. Hardi N., the man considered to be the center of the terrorist case around the seven men arrested on Thursday, also belonged to the same circle as B.

Earlier this year B. sent a letter to the Telegraaf saying that he or his friends would carry out attacks in the Netherlands. "Abu Bakr [founder of ISIS] said not to travel to Syria and Iraq anymore, but to conduct the jihad in your own country", he wrote, according to the newspaper. "Take revenge on behalf of the innocent civilians who have been killed by the coalition, so that justice can be served. Perform the jihad in the Benelux (...) by committing attacks in the places where police, soldiers and members of the Royal House go."

The terrorism threat level in the Netherlands was not adjusted following these arrests. It remains at 4 on a scale of 5, which means that there is a real chance of a terrorist attack in the Netherlands, but no concrete indications that one is being planned. 

According to Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security, the suspects were "already a long way" into their plans to commit a terrorist attack.  "It is good news that the services acted in this way. But it is intense that people are walking around with such bad intentions. We have to be very alert."