Guarding Holland from terrorist 'spectaculars'

9th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

Lesley Thomas asks what the Dutch government is doing to prevent terror attacks in the Netherlands.

Will the next one be a hoax or for real?

The reality of terrorism has been brought home to us in brutal fashion in recent days: the Beslan school siege resulted in 350 deaths and at least eight people died in the blast near the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on Thursday.

But for every one real terror attack, there are dozens of false alarms. About 97 percent of the 3,000 bomb scares in the Netherlands every year are hoaxes.

A large number are aimed at schools and take place during exam periods. Obviously some students just don't want to take exams and will do anything to get out of sitting them.

Many more copycat threats come flooding in just after terrorist attacks in other parts of the world.

"About a hundred of the remaining threats involve explosives or bullets. Most of these have to do with the organised crime scene" says Edwin Bakker, senior research fellow into terrorism at the Clingendael Institute.

*quote1*The September 11 attacks on the US dealt society and the world economy a tremendous blow, while the wholesale slaughter of children at Beslan seems to signal a new low, even for terrorists. Yet most terrorist attacks do not disrupt our daily lives for more than a day.

"If you give a terrorist threat a serious status, it becomes serious", explains Bakker.

A recent website threat to bring "nights of blood" and car bombs to the Netherlands and Italy has caused real anxiety because of the mass coverage it has received.

The death of a Dutch soldier in Iraq around the same time helped put this news item on the front page. 

Supposedly the Islamic terrorist group, Jamaat al-Tawhid al-Islamiyya, via a message posted on a website, threatened to attack the Netherlands and Italy if the countries' troops were not withdrawn from Iraq.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, Ivo Hommes, explains that in light of the attacks in Madrid and in the US, the possibility of an attack on the Netherlands cannot be discounted. "The Netherlands can be just as much a target as other countries in the world".

Hommes says the situation poses a dilemma. "The government tries to be as open to the public without arousing fear.  It's important that the government makes clear to the public that it is doing everything possible to fight terrorism".

Besides informing the press, another instrument is the new threat advisory, a system of codes that will be used to warn the public as of next year.

The government wants to use this advisory to alert selective business sectors to up their security and to keep citizens informed. For instance, the system could warn about suspicious packages in a train station or about the fact that a scheduled event will not take place.

But Bakker is afraid that the system could assist in fostering fear, thereby creating a device terrorists can manipulate. He thinks that the Dutch threat advisory system should be linked to clear measures to be taken in times of emergency. For example if the colour is orange, the fire department should get out its emergency plans.

"Terrorism is a hazy, unclear business. The colours should always be yellow, and the colour red means that you are too late," Bakker says.

"In Europe most terrorist attacks result in no casualties," says Bakker. He explains that the recent attack in Madrid (191 dead), though shocking, was an exception.

Bakker: "The variety of ethnic groups living in the Netherlands increases the likelihood of terrorist activity, as 'national' or inter-ethnic conflicts in the place of origin are exported to immigrant countries".   

Take for example the large Moroccan community in Spain. Moroccan immigrants are suspected of being part of a Moroccan terror cell said to be responsible for the terrible attacks in Madrid last March.

The Moroccan kind of al-Qaeda network in Spain has existed longer and is bigger than simil

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