AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) – Prosecutors argued in court Monday they had a solid case against 14 men _ including the man convicted of murdering filmmaker Theo van Gogh _ proving that they belonged to an Islamic terrorist group.
Prosecutor Koos Plooy, summarizing his evidence in the landmark case against the so-called Hofstad Group, said the prosecution had compiled “a good dossier, carried out in an investigation that was conducted correctly.”
It includes wiretaps, communications recorded in private Internet chat rooms, weapons and blueprints seized in raids, al-Qaida propaganda, and testaments written by some members apparently in preparation for suicide attacks.
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The case is seen as a test of new law that makes it illegal to belong to a terrorist organization, making it easier to prosecute extremists who may not have committed overt acts of terrorism. The laws were toughened after the courts acquitted several people accused of preparing attacks
Defense lawyers concede their clients were friends and acquaintances who shared similar religious beliefs, but say they cannot be found guilty of terrorism merely by association.
They are due to present rebuttals in the coming month.
Plooy said the group “follows not a religious, but a radical political ideology.” They believe non-Muslims “should and must be condemned to death,” he said.
Among the defendants was Mohammed Bouyeri, wearing a red kefiyah head scarf in the courtroom, who said at his earlier trial that he acted alone in killing Van Gogh on a busy street on Nov. 2, 2004. He said he took revenge for the perceived insult to Islam by Van Gogh’s film Submission and that he had no remorse. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Most of the other suspects, who had been under surveillance by the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD, were arrested in raids shortly after the murder.
Two of them, Jason Walters and Ismail Aknikh, face additional charges for allegedly throwing a hand grenade that wounded three police officers before they were arrested Nov. 10, 2004. Another defendant, Nouredine el Fahtni, was caught with a loaded machine gun after a chase in June 2005.
Plooy was due to continue summarizing the prosecution arguments through Wednesday and will recommend a sentence, which is not binding on the judges.
The court already has released several defendants in expectation that even if convicted their punishment would be less than the time served. One is Jason Walters’ younger brother Jermaine. Both are sons of a U.S. soldier father and a Dutch mother. Also released were Nadir Adarraf, Rachid Boussana, Mohamed el Bousklaoui, and Zine Labidine Aourghe, who is wanted by Spanish authorities. Other suspects include Mohamed Boughaba, Yousef Ettoumi, Zakaria Taybi, Ahmed Hamdi, and Mohamed el Morabit.
An alleged 15th member of the group, Samir Azzouz, has been acquitted once of plotting a terrorist attack and is now on trial separately for plotting another attack. His testimony as a witness in the current case appeared to support the most difficult allegation of the prosecution’s case: that that the men belonged to a group.
“We reject you. We reject your system. We hate you. I guess that about sums it up,” Azzouz told judges during hearings last month.
Other high points of the trial so far included the testimony of the “wife” of el Fahtni, who was married in a cult-like ceremony at Bouyeri’s house, which was never registered as a recognized marriage. Malika Shabi had told police the pair watched al-Qaida videos of beheadings on their “wedding” night and she listened to her partner rail against Dutch politicians he wanted to kill. But she refused to speak in court.
Two protected witnesses, whose identities cannot be disclosed, testified about how the group smuggled firearms from Belgium and that el Fahtni knew about Van Gogh’s murder ahead of time.