The Belgian authorities have arrested an Iraqi man suspected of involvement in a Qaeda terrorist cell that was partly responsible for a series of bombings nearly 15 years ago that killed at least 376 people in Iraq, Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office said on Friday.
The man, identified only by the initials O. Y. T., has been living in Belgium since 2015 and was taken into custody on Wednesday after the Belgian police carried out a search in the eastern city of Hasselt, the prosecutor’s office said.
He was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, several murders with terrorist intent and participating in the activities of a terrorist group for attacks carried out in 2009 and 2010 in Baghdad using car bombs, targeting several government buildings and other locations.
Qaeda fighters became active in Iraq soon after the American-led invasion in 2003, gaining support, weapons and knowledge of the terrain from former supporters of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s longtime dictator.
These former regime supporters shared Al Qaeda’s goal of forcing the American military and their Iraqi partners out of the country. Among the former Hussein supporters and crucial to the anti-American insurgency’s success were members of the former Iraqi intelligence forces and some former leaders in Iraq’s security forces.
In August 2009, truck bombs killed at least 95 people at and around the Foreign and Finance Ministries in Baghdad, near the Green Zone — a once heavily fortified area that was the heart of the American presence in the country — exposing a new vulnerability after Americans had handed over security responsibilities to Iraq about two months earlier.
That October, two synchronized car bombs struck near the same area, killing at least 155 people, injuring about 500, and severely damaging the Justice Ministry and other institutional buildings. In the months afterward, another series of car bombs killed dozens of people in the area.
In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion and the ensuing civil war, 186,000 to 209,000 Iraqi civilians were killed from 2003 to 2021, with many dying before 2010, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project and the Iraq Body Count project.
While it is difficult to know which attacks the Iraqi man in Belgium might have been involved with, many of the car bombs and mortar barrages that occurred in the 2009 to 2010 period in Iraq targeted heavily populated government buildings and parking areas where government workers were leaving their cars or boarding buses to go to and from their homes.
The Belgian prosecutor’s office said the man would appear on Friday before a court, which is expected to decide whether to keep him in custody.
In the past decade, as the Islamic State group gained power in the Middle East, it recruited heavily in Belgium, helping young men, mostly, travel to Syria and Iraq, where they were trained and then sent back to Europe to carry out attacks on their home soil. Belgian extremists were among those leading a number of European terrorist plots, including the attacks in Paris in November 2015, and those in 2016 in Belgium.