By Sharon Sadeh
Ha’aretz (Israel), Aug. 11, 2002
THE HAGUE – The closure of the Al-Aqsa Foundation’s offices in Germany last week set Holland’s Jewish community into motion. Last Wednesday Ronny Naftaniel, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) in the Hague, sent Holland’s Justice Ministry an urgent letter, demanding that it investigate the Al-Aqsa group’s activity in the country, and take steps to close the Foundation’s offices.
“The Al-Aqsa Foundation operates around Europe, including the Netherlands and Belgium,” Naftaniel explains. He says that the head of the Foundation in Germany, a Palestinian named Mohammed Amar, also directs a sister branch in Holland whose main office is located in the city of Harlem, and which raised 600,000 Euros in 2001 in a campaign focused in cities that have large Muslim populations.
Holland’s General Intelligence and Security Service (known as AIVD, from the Dutch acronym) noted in its 2001 report that the Al-Aqsa group raises money for Hamas. But AIVD spokesman Vincent Van Steen says: “There is no proof that this money is used for terror activity, since Hamas also directs social and cultural activity.”
The Al-Aqsa group’s activity in the Netherlands is just the tip of the iceberg. A wide network of activity undertaken by extremist Muslims has stirred anxiety among the local Jewish community, and also security officials and politicians. But a Ha’aretz investigation shows that despite this concern about growing Islamic radicalization, local authorities have yet to come to grips with the dangers posed by the trend. The apparently insufficient response is exemplified by the failure to implement strict security procedures in public venues, and the reluctance to legislate specific anti-terror proposals.
Last year, a wealth of accumulated evidence indicated that the country’s liberal immigration policy, its strong commitment to individual liberties and the atmosphere of tolerance were being exploited by extremist Muslim activists and terror elements. Police and security officers conducted undercover surveillance of Muslim operatives. They also carried out two raids – in September and April – in which ten people, nine Algerians and one French citizen, were detained on charges of planning attacks against Western targets. Four of them remain in custody, but two weeks ago one of these suspects escaped from his prison cell, and Dutch authorities are pursuing him. Another investigation, carried out in cooperation with intelligence officials from the U.S. and other European countries, has established that the passports used by two suicide strikers who last September murdered Ahmedd Sahah Massoud, an anti-Taliban Afghan leader with the Northern Alliance, were forged in the Netherlands.
A recruitment connection operates freely in the Netherlands, trying to enlist Muslim fighters for the struggle in Kashmir. Recently the bodies of two young men who were killed last January in clashes with Indian troops were returned to Holland. Last week, authorities in Belgium announced that a number of leading members of the Fundamentalist party FIS (which has been banned in Algeria) met secretly in the Netherlands; this disclosure embarrassed Dutch security officials.
At least in a technical sense, when it comes to fighting terror, the hands of law enforcement officials in Holland are tied. Despite intra-governmental agreements and accepted, joint definitions of terror which were adopted in an emergency atmosphere by European Union members after the September 11 attacks in the U.S., “terrorism” as such is not defined in Dutch legislation. No person can be sentenced in the Netherlands for membership in a terrorist organization or for carrying out terrorist attacks.
Persons suspected of such actions are persecuted only for criminal actions normally taken by terrorists such as kidnapping, trespassing, manslaughter or murder.
The AIVD spokesman denies that this apparent lacuna in Dutch law poses a practical obstacle in the prosecution of terrorists. “Whoever is involved in an act of terror is involved in transgressions of the criminal code,” the spokesman explains.
In Holland, recent months have seen a lively public debate about the activities and ideologies of 700,000 Muslim residents in the country. The debate was sparked by the broadcast of an investigation the current events television program, Nova – the broadcast featured secret recordings of incendiary sermons condemning Israel, the U.S., women and homesexuals, given by various Imam preachers. One of the Muslim sermonizers called on Allah to “pour out wrath” on U.S. President George Bush, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; another Imam recited verses in praise of Palestinian suicide terrorists. Dutch prosecutors are considering whether indictments can be filed against some of these imams.
In a related development, a new disturbing AIVD report on Muslim schools in the country has been released. According to the report, the schools, which are partially funded by donations from Libya and Saudi Arabia, indoctrinate students, and advocate doctrines that are so extremist that they “might be harmful to the democratic legal order.”
Classified documents and security sources indicate that terror organizations are involved in Holland in weapons smuggling, document forgery and illegal transfer of funds.
A top Israeli diplomat says that European security services carry out routine monitoring of Imams and Islamic operatives. However, the diplomat says, “such [monitoring] is not designed to prevent anti-Semitic incitement…Instead, its aim is to supply timely warnings about the existence of terror cells.” Rather than taking decisive steps to prevent incitement which encourages violence against Jews, governments in Europe are “content to voice general denunciations of attacks against Jews and their institutions. They fear that pointing an accusatory finger at the Muslims, and taking strong steps to thwart terror might undermine a fragile intra-religious balance, cause electoral damage, and harm relations with Muslim states. Such steps might also prod Muslim extremists toward acts of reprisal against governmental symbols – and the last thing which authorities in Europe want is to import the problems of the Middle East to their own countries.”