Dutch police search for sarin nerve gas, four arrests
Dutch police and chemical weapons experts searched for a suspected stockpile of deadly sarin gas outside the popular tourist city of Maastricht on Monday, with four people arrested, an official said.
Police cordoned off an area on Saturday in a forest just outside the southern city but found nothing, public prosecutor spokeswoman Cindy Rijnders told AFP.
"We received information that there was possibly a deal involving sarin gas," she said.
Police received a tip-off on Wednesday and arrested a Dutch man and woman on Saturday night at the scene when they allegedly started digging for the hidden deadly nerve gas.
Two other people, also Dutch nationals, were arrested in the nearby town of Heerlen, Rijnders said.
One of those arrested is a dual Turkish-Dutch national, she said.
Maastricht officials held a press conference late Monday to announce the purpose of the search, that had been going on since Saturday.
Maastricht mayor Onno Hoes said there was no danger to public safety.
Television images showed police chopping down trees and using a front-end loader to dig near the village of Amby, about five kilometres (three miles) northeast of Maastricht city centre.
Rijnders said police dug up an area of around 400 square metres (4,300 square feet) by one metre deep and combed the area with sophisticated x-ray equipment.
"Nothing was found," she added.
Police said they suspected that someone had allegedly put a quantity of sarin up for sale and that the deal was not terrorism related, Dutch news agency ANP reported.
Reijnders said the four, aged between 21 and 52, would appear before a local judge on Tuesday, facing charges of dealing or concealing a dangerous substance.
Developed in 1938 in Germany as a pesticide, sarin is a deadly and volatile nerve agent that is colourless, odourless.
Symptoms include nausea and violent headaches, blurred or tunnel vision, drooling, muscular convulsions, respiratory arrest, loss of consciousness and then death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In high doses, sarin paralyses the muscles around the lungs and prevents chemicals from "switching off" the body's secretions, so victims suffocate or drown as their lungs fill with mucus and saliva.
Even a tiny dose of sarin can be deadly if it enters the respiratory system, or if a drop comes into contact with the skin.
Even if it does not kill, sarin's effects can be permanent, inflicting lasting damage to the victim's lungs, eyes and central nervous system.
Sarin and other nerve agents may have been used in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the CDC said and was used in two terror attacks in Japan in 1994 and on March 20, 1995, when 13 people lost their lives in an attack on a Tokyo subway.
The Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult members released the Nazi-developed sarin gas simultaneously in several packed commuter trains during the morning rush hour.