AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A suspected Islamist went on trial on Monday for the murder of a Dutch filmmaker critical of Islam but waived the right to mount a defence in a case that has stoked religious and racial tension in the Netherlands.
Mohammed Bouyeri is accused of killing Theo van Gogh as he cycled to work in Amsterdam on November 2, 2004. The Dutch-Moroccan is charged with shooting and stabbing Van Gogh before cutting his throat and leaving a note pinned to his body with a knife.
A descendant of the brother of 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, the filmmaker was known for his outspoken criticism of Islam and angered many Muslims by making a film which accused Islam of condoning violence against women.
In an emotionally charged start to one of the most closely watched criminal trials in the Netherlands in years, Van Gogh’s mother and sister told judges the murder had devastated their close-knit family and sent shock waves through the Netherlands.
“The impact this event had will stay in the hearts and minds of people for a long time,” the filmmaker’s mother Anneke van Gogh told Amsterdam District Court.
The accused entered court clutching a book with an ornate motif on the cover. Wearing a black and white headscarf, the bearded 27-year-old confirmed the place and date of his birth.
“He does not wish to present a defence. He wishes to exercise his right to silence,” his lawyer Peter Plasman told the high-security court in an Amsterdam suburb.
Prompted repeatedly by judges to address the court, the accused replied: “I have nothing to add.” Later, he interrupted a judge by reciting religious verse in Arabic.
Plasman made no comment about the guilt or innocence of his client at a pre-trial hearing.
Prosecutors have said the accused believed he was doing God’s will and wanted to die a “martyr” at the hands of police. The suspect was injured in a gun battle with police before he was arrested in eastern Amsterdam shortly after the murder.
Bouyeri could face up to life in prison if found guilty of the murder. He faces other charges including the attempted murder of police officers and illegal possession of weapons.
Rudolph Peters, an Islam expert at Amsterdam University, was called as a witness to analyse texts and letters prosecutors say were written by Bouyeri. The suspect appeared to be a hardline Muslim who saw himself as an instrument of God, Peters said.
Van Gogh’s murder sparked a wave of attacks on mosques, religious schools and churches in a country once renowned for its tolerance, and raised questions about the integration of the almost 1 million Muslims living in the Netherlands.
Bouyeri, who was born and grew up in Amsterdam, is accused of a premeditated attack. Prosecutors say he ignored Van Gogh’s pleas for mercy, before slashing his throat and leaving a note pinned to his body with a knife.
The five-page letter quoted the Koran and was addressed to Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for Van Gogh’s film “Submission” about violence against women. She went into hiding for weeks after the murder.
The accused underwent psychiatric and psychological observation but refused to cooperate with the evaluation. A psychologist told the court there was no reason to assume diminished responsibility.
Prosecutors say conversations recorded at the home of two men in The Hague, arrested in a raid after Van Gogh’s murder, show that a number of people in Bouyeri’s circle of friends knew of his plan to kill Van Gogh on November 2.
The two are among around a dozen alleged members of a suspected group of Islamic militants known as the Hofstad group who were detained after Van Gogh’s murder. They are due to face trial separately for membership of a criminal organisation and planning to kill prominent politicians.