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Sleepers, Awake

Belgium arrests a suspected al Qaeda recruiter, and Europeans question their own safety from terrorism.


So far away, yet so close

Belgian police arrested a suspected recruiter for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organisation Wednesday, adding to a sense of alarm that urban Europeans have felt in recent days.

The 36-year-old Belgian citizen of Tunisian origin, already jailed previously for membership in a criminal organisation, is charged with "recruiting fighters for a foreign military operation," Reuters reported.

The suspect was named by police as Tarek Maaroufi and identified as the same man on Italy's list of "wanted" suspects.

A Belgian police spokesman said Maaroufi was linked to a scheme involving passports stolen from diplomatic offices and later used by the killers of the late Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood.

A Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian have also been arrested in connection to the scheme, Reuters reported.

Uneasy cities

Though al Qaeda has carried out no known terrorist attacks on European soil, new warnings from US and European national security services that attacks "could take place" have put people on edge.

German cities were on especially concerned last weekend, after officials in Washington in Berlin revealed they had "non-specific" information suggesting the possibility of a threat.

Since the revelation that the September 11 suicide hijackers were based in Hamburg, many Germans in particular have become convinced their country is home to so-called "sleepers", agents waiting to spring into action when al Qaeda delivers an order.

Spanish and French arrests have given Europeans the impression that a large network of sleepers may exist, perhaps undetectable.

But facts are by nature scarce under such circumstances.

Arrests such as Wednesday's in Belgium cause some Europeans to worry, yet others feel relief that police and intelligence services are following leads.

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