Most charges against Dutch terror group dropped
The Appeal Court in The Hague has acquitted seven members of the so-called Hofstad group accused of participation in a terrorist organisation, overturning long prison sentences passed by a lower court. Michel Hoebink reports.
The Appeal Court in The Hague has acquitted most members of the so-called Hofstad group accused of participation in a terrorist organisation, overturning long prison sentences passed by a lower court. This means that seven of the eight suspected terrorists are back on the streets. Politicians in The Hague are concerned by the verdict and are calling for tougher anti-terrorism legislation.
The members of the group around Mohamed Bouyeri, the murderer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, were originally sentenced to prison for up to fifteen years for participation in a terrorist organisation. The group held meetings at Bouyeri's house in Amsterdam. Two of the members of the group threw a hand-grenade at police in The Hague as they attempted to arrest them in November 2004.
At the time the court ruled that there was insufficient evidence that the seven young men were actually planning terrorist attacks, but that they did form a terrorist organisation, with terrorist intent and aimed at inciting hatred, sedition and posing a threat.
The Court of Appeal now finds there is insufficient evidence that the Hofstad group was an organised collaborative group. It did not have sufficient structure. The suspects did meet and together formed a network, but in no way were they under any obligation or did they have a joint plan of action.
The court also ruled that there was no proof of a common ideology. Not all the members shared Mohammed Bouyeri's opinions, the group's 'ideologist'. Some of the suspects even stated during the investigation that they didn't agree at all with the murder of Theo van Gogh by Bouyeri.
The sentence of Jason Walters, who threw the hand-grenade, still stands at fifteen years. But the sentence of Ismaïl Akhnikh, who was with Walters at the time, was reduced from thirteen years to fifteen months for possession of illegal weapons. He has already served his sentence and like the other six has been released.
The Public Prosecution is disappointed with the verdict. And politicians in The Hague are also worried. Both the Christian Democrats and the conservative VVD think that if it is so difficult to put away terrorists, current legislation should be made even tougher. VVD MP and former public prosecutor Fred Teeven:
"There used to be plenty of talk that current legislation went too far. But perhaps we should conclude that this kind of legislation does not go far enough in the Netherlands now."
MP Jan de Wit of the Socialist Party says calls to tighten legislation, however, are not the answer:
"If you stretch the definitions any further, then any meeting could be deemed an offence."
Lawyer Bart Nooitgedacht who defended one of the suspects shares this opinion. He believes the verdict should restore the faith of the Dutch in the rule of law, now that "you can't be labelled a terrorist for nothing."
The Public Prosecution is now considering an appeal in cassation so that the Supreme Court, the Netherlands' highest judicial body, can give its verdict.
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]