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Amsterdam bomb threat was false alarm; possibly act of revenge

DutchAmsterdam.nl — All seven people arrested last Thursday after police received an anonymous call about a bomb threat against several stores in South-East Amsterdam have been released.

No one has been charged in relation to the incident. All of those arrested were part of an extended family.

While one Dutch newspaper says police are now looking for ‘three men in van’ whom the female caller claimed had traveled from Belgium with explosives, another news source says police may conclude that the call could have been an act of revenge against the Moroccan family.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice says response to the call was stepped up because much of the information provided by the anonymous caller checked out. Among other things, the caller gave the names of specific people, details of the stores targeted, and addresses where the three men would stay.

The investigation is now focused on finding the anonymous caller.

One of the people who were arrested is reported to be the brother of Jamal Ahmidan. Nicknamed ‘El Chino’ (the Chinese), Ahmidan was a prime suspect in the bombing attack by Muslim extremists against a train in Madrid in March, 2004, in which 191 people died and 1800 were wounded. Three weeks after the attack five terrorist, Ahmidan included, blew themselves up when police tried to enter their apartment in a Madrid suburb.

The family connection appears to have been a primary reason for the stepped up response to the call.

Better to prevent than to bury

Dutch authorities remain positive about the response to what they term a ‘real threat.’

“It is better to prevent than to bury,” says terrorism-expert Glenn Schoen of Ernst Young. “You do not know ahead of time whether you’re dealing with a false alarm. Sometimes indications are so strong that you must act. Meanwhile you can not take risks.”

Uri Rosenthal, chairman of the COT Institute for Safety, Security and Crisis Management, says authorities do not step up their reponse without good reason. “That doesn’t happen for nothing. It is better to be safe than sorry.”

Willem de Haan, professor of criminology at the University of Groningen, says that “as a society we must accept that we are startled by reports and police actions.” According to him the reactions of Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen and Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst underline the idea that authorities often have no choice. “The prefer a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach over later questions as to why they did not act in order to prevent slaughter.” It follows that “if something must be taken seriously, you are left with no choice but to vacate [buildings]. The safety of our citizens comes first. That is the order of things.”

Ethnicity

Several Moroccan organizations have expressed their displeasure at the fact that news reports mentioned the ethnicity of those arrested. Moroccans have received much negative press in recent years, primarily as the result of hooliganism and criminal behavior on the part of second- and thir generation Dutch youths of Moroccan descend.

A spokesperson for the Public Prosecutor’s office says there was good reason to mention the ethnic background. “We had noted the relation to Madrid, and they were Moroccans. If we would not have announced the ethnicity of the suspects it would have looked like we intended to hide the information.”

Meanwhile, some of the family members are said to have announced that they will seek damages.

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Last updated CET (Central European Time)

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