Two years before he allegedly killed a Dutch filmmaker in the name of radical Islam, Mohammed Bouyeri volunteered at his local community centre and was a promising member of the second generation of Moroccan immigrants to the Netherlands.
His transformation from student to alleged jihadi terrorist fits a pattern of young Muslims in Europe who are being recruited by Islamic militants – sometimes openly in the streets – and trained to carry out violent attacks against the West.
Local youth who knew Bouyeri, 26, said he became interested in politics after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, but only grew radical after the death of his mother from cancer in the autumn of 2002.
He began wearing traditional Muslim dress, grew a beard and attended a mosque where key September 11 hijackers and plotters had reportedly met, including Mohamed Atta.
Bouyeri was arrested in a shoot-out with police minutes after Theo van Gogh’s murder November 2 in Amsterdam.
He allegedly shot Van Gogh several times, stabbed him and cut his throat, then impaled him with a five-page letter threatening Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for Van Gogh’s film Submission that criticised the treatment of women under Islam.
“There will be no mercy for the wicked, only the sword will be raised against them,” the letter said, adding that the Netherlands, America and Europe “will go down.”
Bouyeri also carried a will in his pocket written in good Dutch titled Baptised in Blood, urging others to “go for it, and Allah will give you Eden instead of this filthy Earth.”
Van Gogh, a distant relative of painter Vincent van Gogh, had received death threats after releasing his film in August.
At the time of the attack, Bouyeri was living with several of the suspects in an apartment where police seized fundamentalist literature and videos. He was not on any terror watch list, though he has been convicted of assault and a violent robbery.
Bouyeri was born and raised in a working-class area of west Amsterdam sometimes called Satellite City because dishes broadcasting Arabic television are so common. His parents were Moroccans who arrived in a wave of immigration in the 1970s and spoke little Dutch.
Resentment of the Dutch establishment – including anger at government support for the US and Israel – sometimes bubbles over. Police scuffled with youth on Bouyeri’s street in 1998 – and again when they arrived to search Bouyeri’s parents’ house after the murder.
It is in areas like this that recruiting takes place.
The case has prompted a backlash, with Muslim groups asking the Dutch government to protect Islamic sites after an elementary school was bombed – the latest incident following Van Gogh’s murder.
Amsterdam city officials have announced round-the-clock police protection for Islamic buildings. Ayhan Tonca, chairman of the Contact Group for Muslims and Government, said he will ask today for permanent police protection, camera surveillance and undercover agents to help ensure the safety of Dutch Muslims – about 1 million in a country of 16 million people.
The Dutch secret service says several dozen “muhajideen” veterans of wars in Afghanistan and the Balkans form a hard core of about 150 radicals who are active in the Netherlands.
Secret service Director Sybrand van Hulst said in a report published last year that youth with a “certain fascination” with terrorism are impressed by these Islamic warriors.
Bouyeri graduated from a local high school in 1995, and started college, but never finished. In 2001 he began volunteering at the Eigenwijks neighbourhood centre.
“My goal as part of the editorial staff is to sketch an image of the youth in this part of town,” Bouyeri wrote in Eigenwijks’ paper in March 2002. “Please, send us your opinions.”
Bouyeri began attending services at the al-Tawhid mosque. There, he befriended Samir Azzouz, 18, who was arrested in the Netherlands in June for allegedly planning to bomb a major Dutch landmark and is now awaiting trial.
Al-Tawhid, which like most Muslim organisations has condemned Van Gogh’s killing, said it was unaware Bouyeri ever attended.
“We’re strict, but not more than that,” mosque spokesman Farid Zaari said.
In mid-June 1999, authorities believe, September 11 pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi met during a conference on Islamic Puritanism held at al-Tawhid, along with Ramzi Binalshibh – the man accused of co-ordinating the attacks on the United States. He’s now under arrest in Pakistan.
German suspect Mounir El Motassadeq, whose trial in Germany for involvement in the attacks is ongoing, also attended that meeting. Al-Tawhid said it was also unaware the men were there.