AMSTERDAM — A public prosecutor told a high-security court in Amsterdam on Wednesday that terrorism is now a reality in the Netherlands. The murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, he said, was a catalyst to drive a wedge between different sections of Dutch society.
Prosecutor Frits van Straelen said letters left behind by the suspected killer Mohammed B. and electronic surveillance pointed to a link between him and 11 other Muslim men who are in custody on terrorist charges. Their cases are being kept separate from the Van Gogh murder trial.
But it was clear, he said, that a small number of Muslim men had decided to take the “fatal path” of terrorising society and drive a wedge between different groups.
He was addressing Amsterdam-Osdorp court during a preliminary sitting of the case against B.
B., 26, with Dutch and Moroccan nationality, is charged with murdering Van Gogh, attempting to kill several police officers and bystanders “with a terrorist aim” on 2 November 2004 . He is also charged with possession of a gun and knives during the incident.
He is further charged with hindering the work of parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who went into hiding as a result of threats to her life made in a letter left pinned to Van Gogh’s body. Van Straelen said the murder was in part designed as a warning to Hirsi Ali, a vocal critic of aspects of Islam.
Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh worked together on the short film Submission, which suggested Islam tolerates and in some cases supports domestic violence against women.
Van Gogh’s parents and brother were among the people attending the hearing in the high-security complex that is known as the “Bunker”. B. opted not to come to court and remained in his cell in a prison near The Hague.
The case began shortly after 10am and was broadcast with a 15-minute delay on television station Nederland 2.
Van Straelen gave a brief summary of the State’s case against B.
He described how Van Gogh was cycling from his house to his production company when he was intercepted by his killer outside the municipal building on the Linnaeusstraat in the east of Amsterdam shortly before 9am on 2 November last year.
The attacker shot four times before Van Gogh fell or jumped off his bicycle. Van Gogh ran across the road with the killer in pursuit, again firing his weapon.
Van Straelen said van Gogh fell on the bicycle path and pleaded for mercy, asking the man to stop shooting.
Witnesses described how the man shot Van Gogh again from a distance of about half a metre. He then produced a large knife and cut Van Gogh’s throat before plunging the knife into his chest. He then took a smaller knife from a bag he was carrying and used it to pin a letter to Van Gogh’s body.
Van Straelen said witness described how the killer calmly reloaded his weapon before walking towards the public park Oosterpark. A short time later he fired on police and bystanders. He was shot in the leg and arrested.
The prosecutor said the calm way the killer reloaded the gun indicated that he had some training in the use of firearms.
The investigation into the case is still ongoing. One of the major issues to be clarified was whether B. acted alone or whether others helped in the murder.
Van Straelen said witnesses statements gave rise to the suspicion that others were involved. Some witnesses had come forward to say they saw other men in the vicinity of the Linnaeusstraat or near Van Gogh’s home prior to the killing.
One witness claimed to have seen B. talking to two other men in a market shortly before the murder.
Van Straelen said no clear evidence had yet been found to confirm these sightings.