January 11, 2019
Dozens of people would have been killed in an unprecedented terrorist attack in the Netherlands if a seven-strong terrorist cell had not been stopped in time, a Dutch public prosecutor told a court on Thursday.
The terrorists were intercepted in September last year following months of investigation. The seven suspects were arrested in the towns of Arnhem and Weert. Police seized 100kg of fertilizer as well as other bomb-making materials at their homes, they said  at the time. This week, preliminary hearings in the high-profile case started.
“The suspects said goodbye to friends. These suspects were on the way to commit an attack, with dozens of victims. The Netherlands escaped a major attack,” the prosecutor told  a court on Thursday.
According to the prosecution, the terrorists intended to target a festival with guns and bombs. A car bomb was also considered by the group. The conspirators discussed how they would conduct the raid, how they would avoid police, and how they should set off their explosive vests early if law enforcement tried to stop them, the court was told.
Luckily, the police identified the threat before they could carry out their plans. The prosecutor stressed that at no point was the public in danger in this case.
But how different it could have been. If the string had broken with the infiltrators, we might have had dozens of victims.
The police operation to bust the cell started in mid-May after a tip from the Dutch intelligence service AIVD, which flagged one of the suspects as a potential terrorist. The police managed to infiltrate the cell sometime in June and collected enough evidence against them by late September, after which the arrests were made. Shortly before that, group members received training in using guns by two undercover police officers.
The defense team insists that the police operation was actually entrapment and that the group would never have taken part in the gun training unless provoked by the police. The defendants say  they only wanted to “play with Kalashnikovs” and were not “hardcore jihadists” contrary to what the prosecution alleges.
Of the seven people arrested in September, only three were present during the preliminary hearing. One 18-year-old person was since released due to lack of evidence to justify his continued detention, but remains a suspect in the case.