AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch police arrested 12 Somalis on Christmas Eve on suspicion of plotting an imminent terrorist attack in the Netherlands.
The alleged plot was uncovered in a country seen as a potential target for militants over its former military role with NATO forces in Afghanistan and due to the growing influence of an anti-Muslim party at home.
Twelve men aged between 19 and 48 were arrested late on Friday after a message was received from the Dutch intelligence and security service AIVD, prosecutors said in a statement.
"The (AIVD) message reports that a number of Somalis wanted to make a terrorist attack in the Netherlands in the short term," the prosecutors said. They did not say what the intended target was.
Since October, the anti-Muslim Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders has backed a new minority Liberals-Christian Democrat government, which plans to restrict immigration and ban the full-body covering burqa worn by Muslim women.
"Jihadists consider the Netherlands as a legitimate target because of the Dutch presence in Afghanistan, even while our mission has ended. The tougher Islam debate is also a factor that shapes jihadists' view of the Netherlands," a spokeswoman for the Dutch counterterrorism unit NCTb said.
She said the Netherlands is home to about 27,000 Somalis out of a total of 1.9 million Dutch citizens with a non-western background, according to data from Statistics Netherlands (CBS).
Somalis were the largest sub-Saharan asylum group in the Netherlands, most often unemployed, and young men aged between 15 and 25 were relatively often involved in criminal activities, a study commissioned by CBS found in 2005.
AIVD, which declined to comment, warned in its 2009 report Somalia and Yemen were new countries from which the Netherlands faced terror risks.
A telephone shop and four houses in Rotterdam were searched, as well as two motel rooms in Gilze-Rijen, a village in the south of the country, prosecutors said, but no weapons or explosives were found.
Six of the suspects lived in Rotterdam, five did not have a permanent home address and one was from Denmark, according to the prosecutors.
So far there was no evidence of links to Britain, which has a relatively large Somali community, nor with other countries or groups, a prosecutors' spokesman said.
Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger; editing by Andrew Dobbie and Paul Taylor