Armed police end flat siege after Dutch anti-terror raid

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Elite Dutch anti-terror units stormed an inner-city flat in The Hague last night, ending a 14-hour siege which began when three officers were injured in a hand-grenade blast.

Shots rang out just after 5pm, signalling the end of a day of drama in which several streets of the capital were cordoned off, police snipers were deployed on roof tops and the city's airspace was closed.

Two suspects barricaded inside the flat were finally taken away, one of them wounded in the shoulder. Earlier, three police officers suffered injuries after the occupants of the flat threw a hand-grenade at them.

Yesterday's anti-terror swoop came amid heightened tensions in the Netherlands following the cremation of Theo van Gogh, the film-makermurdered on 2 November after he made a documentary critical of Islam.

Since Mr van Gogh's death the Netherlands, once renowned for its tolerance, has threatened to spiral into violence. More than 10 mosques and churches have been hit by arson attacks and on Tuesday there was a second attack in two days on a Muslim school. The Bedir Islamic school in Uden suffered extensive damage and the words "Theo RIP" were scrawled on the walls along with a "white power" sign.

Yesterday's crackdown on terror suspects began before dawn as police and special units moved into a working-class, racially mixed area of the city.

The three-storey building in Antheunisstraat was surrounded by police in riot gear, fire engines and ambulances while neighbours were evacuated.

The police chief, Gerard Bouwman, said: "At the moment of the assault, a hand-grenade was thrown at the arrest team. It exploded and several officers were hurt."

One witness, Syliva Cordia, said: "I saw one policeman crumble to the ground and another was dragged away to safety. There were several people in the house and I heard a man yelling 'I'll chop your head off' and yelling profanities." Dutch television showed video footage of an Asian man being led, handcuffed from the flat wearing only his underpants and socks.

Two of the police officers suffered serious injuries to their legs or stomach and some reports said they had opened a booby-trapped door.

As the day wore on crowds of spectators gathered and a brief scuffle took place between skinheads and local youths from the Moroccan community, but police quickly stamped out the violence. Locals insisted that the area normally enjoys good relations between the races.

Before the storming of the building, the security presence was increased, a helicopter hovered overhead and the country's elite BBE special forces unit, which specialises in counter-terror work, was drafted in.

It was reported that a consignment of weapons was found after police used a robot to search for explosives once the building was cleared.

Meanwhile another suspect was arrested in Utrecht in a related investigation.

Police have not officially linked yesterday's raid to the murder of Mr van Gogh, although the man of joint Dutch and Moroccan nationality who was apprehended after the killing is thought to have had links to radical Islamic groups. Ten people have been arrested in the investigation into that killing and police are still holding six, including their prime suspect who was arrested in a park after a shoot-out. Prosecutors have said they are looking for other militant cells and possible links with international Islamist groups.

A little-known Islamist group threatened on Tuesday to hit the Netherlands if the attacks on Muslim buildings did not stop. The country has received several threats from Islamic militants over the presence of 1,300 Dutch troops in Iraq.

The Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, who visited the Muslim primary school gutted by fire, told parliament he would work with organisations representing the almost a million Muslims who make up 6 per cent of the population.

"We must not allow ourselves to be swept away in a maelstrom of violence," he said. "Free expression of opinion, freedom of religion and other basic rights are the foundation stones of our state and our democracy. They are valid for everybody, always." Visibly upset, he told Muslim families that it was up to all who believed in democracy to prevent "extremism and hate triumphing". Holland was a safe country and they and their children should feel that they belonged, he added.

The school head, Ismail Taspinar, said: "It is terrible that children should become victims in all of this; they have done nothing, yet they are made to feel the hate and the outrage; I am sure that Theo van Gogh would be on their side."