Trial begins for suspect in Van Gogh murder

Case reveals conflicts between Dutch, Muslims in a tense Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM, the Netherlands – A Dutch-Moroccan man charged with the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh goes on trial Monday in a case that has highlighted growing social tensions with the Netherlands’ one-million-strong Muslim community.

Mohammed Bouyeri is accused of murdering Van Gogh as he cycled to work in Amsterdam on Nov. 2, 2004. A descendant of the brother of 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, the filmmaker was known for his outspoken criticism of Islam.

Bouyeri, who was born and grew up in Amsterdam, is accused of a premeditated attack. Prosecutors say he shot and stabbed Van Gogh, ignoring his pleas for mercy, before finally slashing his throat and leaving a letter pinned to his body with a knife.

The five-page letter quoting the Quran was addressed to Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for Van Gogh’s film “Submission”. The film, which accused Islam of condoning violence against women, outraged Muslims.

Forensic evidence

Prosecutor Frits van Straelen told a pre-trial hearing in April that he would present forensic evidence including clothes, a bag, the murder weapon and ammunition to show Bouyeri killed Van Gogh.

The accused appeared at the April hearing but did not comment then on the charges against him. He spent several months under psychiatric observation and has refused to cooperate with prosecutors and police.

Van Straelen also intends to present pictures found at Bouyeri’s home which show executions, beheadings, hangings, cutting of throats, amputations and killings by stoning.

Prosecutors have also said Bouyeri believed he was doing God’s will and wanted to die a “martyr” at the hands of police. Bouyeri was injured in a gun battle with police before being arrested immediately after the murder.

Recorded conversations

Prosecutors claim conversations recorded at the home of two men in The Hague, who were arrested in a raid a week 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 Nov. 2.

The two are among 12 members of a suspected group of Islamic militants dubbed the “Hofstad” group who were arrested after Van Gogh’s murder. All 12 face trial for membership of a criminal organization and planning to kill prominent politicians. Van Straelen has also sought information from U.S. officials on about 87 e-mail addresses found in Bouyeri’s possession.

A relation of Van Gogh will probably testify at the trial, although Hirsi Ali is not expected to do so.

Since the killing, there has been heightened ethnic and religious tension in the Netherlands, once renowned for its tolerance. Mosques in several Dutch cities have been the targets of vandalism and arson attempts.

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Reuters, via MSNBC, USA
July 10, 2005

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 11, 2005.
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