Spanish had ‘concrete info’ of planned concert attack: Rotterdam police

Police officers standing guard outside concert venue Maassilo, after it was closed because of a terrorist threat, in Rotterdam, on Aug 23, 2017.
Police officers standing guard outside concert venue Maassilo, after it was closed because of a terrorist threat, in Rotterdam, on Aug 23, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

AMSTERDAM/BARCELONA (AFP) – Dutch police on Thursday (Aug 24) released a van driver arrested over a suspected terror attack plot on a Rotterdam concert venue, but stepped up inquiries based on a “concrete” tip-off from Spain.

“The man was freed earlier this evening and is no longer a suspect in the investigation,” Rotterdam police said in a statement.

It remained unclear whether the tip-off by Spanish officials to the Dutch was linked to last week’s deadly attacks in Catalonia. Nor was it clear when the Spanish learned of the threat.

The twin vehicle attacks in north-west Spain killed 15 people and wounded 120 others.

Dutch investigators are still trying to piece together the events that led to the cancellation of Wednesday night’s concert by Californian rock band Allah-Las.

Earlier on Thursday, city police chief Frank Paauw told AFP: “There was concrete information from the Spanish police that an attack would be committed on that date, at this place and against this rock band.”

After cancelling a planned concert by the Allah-Las, police carried out a pre-dawn raid where they arrested “a 22-year-old man regarding the terror threat Wednesday evening in Rotterdam,” a police statement said.

BNR radio cited sources that the man had been arrested after “making threatening statements” over the popular messaging service app called Telegram, said to be popular with terror groups.

Justice Minister Stef Blok later told BNR radio the authorities were “keen to hear why he had done something so idiotic”.

This man was still in detention, said Paauw, “suspected of being involved in preparations for a terror attack”.

Dutch national news agency ANP said the suspect was most likely a student from the small town of Zevenbergen, described by neighbours as “a quiet youngster with a girlfriend”.

'WRONG PLACE, TIME'

The driver of the Spanish-plated van was arrested on Wednesday evening after police noticed him driving in a suspicious way, near the concert venue at the Maassilo, in the city’s sprawling harbour district.

Even on Wednesday however, there were doubts that he was in fact linked to the threat.

While officers did found a “couple of gas canisters” in the van, the driver was a mechanic who “appeared to be under the influence of an alcoholic substance,” police said.

Spanish police also ruled the man out of the inquiry. They said he had “five gas canisters in his van for domestic use” but was completely drunk.

Police chief Paauw said it looked as if  “the man had had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

The threat on the concert venue recalls previous such attacks.

In May, 22 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a concert by US singer Ariana Grande in the northern English city of Manchester.

And in November 2015, 90 people were killed in Paris at the Bataclan concert hall where US rock band Eagles of Death Metal were playing.

That was part of a coordinated Islamic militant attack on the city that night which claimed 130 lives.

'HOLY' NAME

In Rotterdam, the members of Allah-Las, a four-piece band from Los Angeles, were escorted from the concert hall by police wearing bullet-proof vests.

In a statement sent to AFP, the band said they were “unharmed and are very grateful to the Rotterdam police and other responsible agencies for detecting the potential threat before anyone was hurt”.

They refused to comment further, but in an interview last year with British daily The Guardian, they said they had receive emails from Muslims offended by their name – but “that absolutely wasn’t our intention”.

They had chosen to use Allah – Arabic for God – because they wanted something “holy sounding”, they said.

Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said on Thursday afternoon the “specific threat surrounding that concert was over, which is logical since the concert was cancelled,” his spokesman confirmed to AFP.

The Netherlands has so far been spared the terror strikes that have rocked its European neighbours recently.

But top Dutch security and intelligence officials have been keeping a wary eye on events.

In June, a Dutch man – known to authorities as being possibly radicalised – was arrested filming outside a stadium during a concert. He was later freed, but the incident is still under investigation.