U.S. says Belgium has impeded terror inquiry

War On Terrorism

The World

October 17, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BRUSSELS, Belgium - U.S. investigators say that the Belgian authorities have denied them access to suspects and evidence in their inquiry into the European network linked to Osama bin Laden and a thwarted plot to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

A senior U.S. law enforcement official said Washington has pleaded with the Belgians to hand over phone numbers and names found on two men who were arrested two days after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The Belgian reaction is an anomaly compared with what is going on in the rest of Western Europe," the official said. "We need to see this information; we need the contacts and addresses of potential suspects in real time in order to act."

The official said that some crucial evidence obtained up to five weeks ago has still not been shared with Washington and may already be stale or useless.

Western diplomats said they did not know why the Belgians have refused to cooperate but speculated that the decentralized nature of their government makes such cooperation more difficult.

Asked about the U.S. complaints, Belgian officials conceded that there had been some problems but insisted that cooperation had improved.

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