THE HAGUE – Growing numbers of Dutch youngsters are adopting radical Islam, sometimes developing extreme views in just a matter of months, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism said in an interview.
Although tough new anti-terrorism laws should prove a deterrent after this month helping to convict four young Muslims of planning to attack Dutch politicians, militant Web sites in the Netherlands are still on the rise and threaten to indoctrinate teenagers, Tjibbe Joustra said.
‘Here in the Netherlands we are seeing an increase in the radicalisation of young people and in how quickly youngsters become radicalised … which is also taking place in schools,’ he told Reuters.
‘Sometimes the radicalisation process can be very rapid.’
Security officials across Europe, rocked by deadly Islamist bomb attacks in Madrid in 2004 and in London the following year, are concerned about the scale and pace of militant recruitment among disaffected young people.
‘We are seeing a considerable number of young women among the radicals. Often they are converts of Dutch origin, and who become a strong driving force in some networks.’
Joustra’s organisation, the NCTB, was founded just months after filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by Dutch-Moroccan Muslim militant Mohammed Bouyeri in November 2004. It has led the country’s anti-terrorist work through a period of unprecedented turbulence and public fear in the Netherlands, a country of 16 million that is home to 1 million Muslims.
The NCTB classed as ‘substantial’ the risk of a terrorist attack in the Netherlands after the London bombings in 2005, the second-highest level in a four-stage warning system. It has remained at that level ever since.
‘That means that an attack is distinctly possible but that we have no concrete evidence that something is being planned,’ Joustra said.
‘It is very difficult to say how many groups are operating in the Netherlands. There are problems in defining a group, and then of course we also don’t know how much is going on without our knowledge. But we believe there are about 10 to 20 active networks.’
Joustra added some groups might focus on sending people abroad for jihad, or holy war, rather than attacks at home.
Next year, the NCTB plans to launch campaigns aimed specifically at school children, warning them of the dangers of radical Islam and militant Web sites. Dutch authorities have also tried to separate those convicted of terrorist offences from other prisoners to prevent the spread of radical Islam in jails.
The country’s two highest profile Muslim militants – Bouyeri, now serving a life sentence, and 20-year-old Samir Azzouz, jailed this month for eight years for planning attacks, have undoubtedly influenced others, Joustra said.
The Netherlands must do more to fight discrimination and a perceived lack of opportunities which leave young Muslims feeling excluded from Western society and at risk of radicalisation, he said. The Moroccan and Turkish communities in the country were already doing much more, he added.