Mohammed Bouyeri, Samir Azzouz and Nouredin el Fatmi have become familiar names in the Netherlands in recent years. For a lengthy period they were scarcely off the front pages of Dutch newspapers and magazines. But in recent months there has been virtually nothing in the media about terrorism in the Netherlands. The threat of a major terrorist attack seems to be over.
From Wednesday onwards, a court in The Hague will be considering the appeal launched by the so-called Hofstad Group. The group surrounding Mohammed Bouyeri was convicted over a year ago as a terrorist organisation involved in sedition and hate crimes. A few months later a second group headed by Samir Azzouz received long jail sentences. Mohammed Bouyeri, the self-confessed murderer of Theo van Gogh, was convicted earlier.
These convictions seemed to have dealt a serious blow to terrorism in the Netherlands. Glenn Schoen, terrorism specialist for the advisory bureau Ernst & Young, believes the”Dutch government has succeeded in defeating the most important networks. But that’s not just because of the court cases:
“The discussion of a number of terrorism-related themes has died down somewhat. The debate stirred up by demagogues like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Geert Wilders has become less heated. The Netherlands’ international profile is also a little lower. We’re still in Afghanistan, but we have left Iraq. This has taken the heat off the discussion about our role in combating terrorism.”
In recent weeks both the National Terrorism Coordinator and the domestic intelligence service the AIVD have noted that the threat of terrorism in the Netherlands has receded.
But, says Glenn Schoen, that doesn’t mean the threat has disappeared completely:
“In the Netherlands too, suspects were only arrested after Theo van Gogh had been murdered. Most of the Hofstad Group was rounded-up in the week following the murder. Previously there were hardly any arrests or awareness of a terrorist threat.”
And of course, Schoen points out, there is still a threat from outside the Netherlands. The fact that the Dutch have things reasonably under control does not mean the threat has diminished in the rest of Europe. “Particularly not in England, France and Spain. In recent years a number of attacks have been foiled by the secret services in those countries. Al-Qaeda and other networks are still interested in these countries.”
Now the direct threat is over for the time being, it looks as though the Netherlands has emerged more or less in one piece. This despite the fact that terrorism advisors have continually been claiming that the question was not whether a major terrorist attack was coming, but when. With hindsight this seems a rather exaggerated claim. Glenn Schoen concedes:
“The terrorist threat has perhaps been exaggerated by the media, the politicians and others with vested interests. So it is a good thing that we have entered a somewhat quieter period. With the pressure off we can put things in perspective and see what the problem is exactly. Terrorism is something we have to continue to work on, but it is no longer something we have to spend every waking hour worrying about.”
The Hofstad appeal hearings are expected to continue through the summer months.
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