Terrorism in the Netherlands

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Since September 11 the world has lived under the shadow of terrorism. But what about the situation in the Netherlands? Mindy Ran reports.

Open any paper, any day of the week and at least five headlines will include the words "terrorist" or "terrorism". Further into the articles words such as "could be", "possibly" and "may be" are used.

Terrorism is a global topic with a global focus, yet even now we appear to know very little about its true scope, even within the Netherlands.

Vincent Van Steen is the spokesperson for the AIVD, the Dutch combined security and intelligence service. Recently reports appeared in the press that the Netherlands contained "up to 100 suspected terrorists".

"This number is not made public by us," says Van Steen. "We are not specific in public about these sorts of numbers.

"There are several kinds of terrorist activities that have been found in the Netherlands since 9/11.

"It was discovered that people were involved in planning an attack on Paris and several people were arrested on 13 September of last year. The investigations were already happening for months before 9/11 so there was no direct link. But there have been about 10 arrests over the last year for related terrorist activities like forged passports and recruiting young Muslims for the jihad.

"It is a problem which cannot be neglected," asserts Van Steen. "Several tens of young Muslims who seemed to be integrated into our society, these young people do not feel at home and are vulnerable for recruitment.

"In this aspect there are no difference between the Netherlands and other countries.

"In the UK and Germany there are very large communities of people from Muslim countries. The attacks in New York were planned in Hamburg and London. It is not a specifically Dutch problem, but we share it with everyone else."

Are we a target?

Peter van Ham is a senior researcher at the well-known foreign policy think-tank, the Clingendael Institute, specialising in European Security issues. "Within the EU itself there have been a lot of changes," says Van Ham, "chiefly the increase in co-operation between member states."

According to Van Ham, the main debates centre on increasing ease of extradition from one member state to another and a specific programme attempting to define terrorism. The latter is a debate reaching all the way to the UN. "It always becomes a political definition. It is very delicate knowing who and what to include and exclude."

Is the Netherlands a specific target? "Not in the short term," says Van Steen of the AIVD, "The main threats are against the US, UK and Israel." Asked the same question, the Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen also says, "no".

"We should not be naive and assume that Europe is not a potential target," stresses Van Ham. A US official embassy source also agrees: "There can be a threat anywhere. Terrorists are not shy about attacking in a place where the government is not a specific enemy. Look what just happened in Nairobi, they were targeting Israelis. In the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, 12 Americans were killed and 200 local citizens."

According to the US Embassy, the Netherlands government is considered a real leader in counter-terrorism and co-operative border security. The "Container Security Initiative (CSI) is a US initiative to prevent use of container ships from being used either as targets themselves or for the purpose of transporting weapons including chemical, biological, nuclear and radioactive".

"The Netherlands was the first government to sign up," says the US embassy official, "and the first to place US customs officers at the harbour in Rotterdam. There has also been a recent agreement to place US immigration officers to liase at Schiphol."

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