A fourth Dutch man has been arrested in the Netherlands in connection with an apparent plan by drugs criminals to kidnap the Belgian justice minister – it was foiled when Kalashnikov rifles and other weapons were found in a car near his home.
The kidnapping is believed to have been planned in retaliation for a spate of at least 10 arrests in recent months as police in the two countries have moved to dismantle networks importing cocaine through Antwerp and Rotterdam from South American countries such as Colombia and Brazil.
The Belgian minister, Vincent van Quickenborne, revealed he had received an official warning about the kidnap threat last Thursday and had been placed under 24-hour guard as a result. He said it had redoubled his determination to continue to combat organised crime.
“The criminals behind this are achieving the opposite of what they are aiming for. They feel trapped and that is how they should feel. Seeing how they are responding strengthens me in the belief that we must keep fighting. We will never fold to violence. Never,” he said.
Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo tweeted his support for Mr Van Quickenborne, declaring: “We will not be intimidated by anyone. The work continues.”
Following the warning to Mr Quickenborne, police on heightened alert searched a car with Dutch plates parked some distance from his home in Kortrijk, in the west of the country, about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Brussels.
Belgian media said that as well as one or more Kalishnikovs the car also contained other unspecified weapons, two containers of petrol, and plastic tie-wraps, which can be used to bind hands and legs. The vehicle was undergoing forensic examination on Monday.
Three Dutch nationals, aged 48, 29 and 20 were arrested in and near The Hague late on Friday night. The fourth, aged 21, was arrested in an armed raid in the city on Sunday.
The policing agency Europol warned last year that the main route for trafficking cocaine into western Europe had moved north from the Iberian Peninsula to Antwerp and Rotterdam – driven by a newly competitive Colombian market following the disbandment of FARC rebels in 2016.
In what appears to have been a major breakthrough in identifying “the Brazilian connection”, detectives in Spain earlier this month arrested two men – one Dutch and the other Belgian – in raids on two luxury villas near Marbella. The men were identified by police as “important figures” in cocaine trafficking from Brazil to Antwerp.
The Belgian alert comes just days after a warning last week that organised criminals in the Netherlands had stepped up their targeting of prime minister Mark Rutte and, for the first time, the 18-year-old heir to the Dutch throne Princess Amalia.