Time to get real in the war on terror

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

As the number of "suspected terrorists" slipping past Dutch justice increases, the Netherlands must urgently review its role in the war against terror.

As the number of "suspected terrorists" slipping past Dutch justice increases, the Netherlands must urgently review its role in the war against terror.

This is particularly so in light of media reports indicating that there could be 100 terrorists with links to Islamic fundamentalism active in the Netherlands. Several times over the past 15 months, the police have picked up Muslims and leaked to the press that the suspects have connections with al-Qaeda. 

Great. No sane person would want Osama bin Laden's sidekicks to be given a free hand to plan their next atrocity.

But once these cases come to trial, everything seems to come unstuck. The Dutch political, law enforcement and judicial authorities are displaying an alarming tendency to botch cases or simply not have the evidence they claimed they had.

It is also a real cause for concern when politicians take the easy route and let someone walk free despite the fact that there appears to be sufficient evidence to prosecute that person for terrorist involvement.

It is important at this stage to say that the rule of law has to be applied always, even when dealing with terrorism. It is understandable that some people want to throw away the rulebook and beat terrorists at their own game: murder. But that is also wrong.

The onus should always be on the prosecuting authorities to prove allegations they choose to lay against an individual. It is not for the individual to prove his or her innocence.

So, it is inexcusable when our supposed guardians (politicians, prosecutors and police), fail to adhere to the strict letter of the law when fighting terrorism. It is even worse when government ministers appear to offload a "terrorist problem" on someone else.

Here in the Netherlands this week, we had the farcical deportation of suspected Islamic terrorist Mullah Krekar to Norway after the Dutch authorities decided not to extradite him to Jordan to face heroin trafficking charges.

It appears the Jordanians refused to reveal important information to the Dutch authorities, raising fears that the extradition had been lodged on behalf of the Iraqis.

Mullah Krekar is a Kurd and believed to be the leader of a newly formed Iraqi Kurd group, Ansar al-Islam, or Partisans of Islam, which is thought to be behind a number of attacks against other Kurdish groups opposed to Saddam Hussein. The FBI has also claimed that the group is sheltering Arab Afghanis linked to al-Qaeda.

This presented a real dilemma to the Dutch: If he could not be sent to possible mistreatment and death in Jordan, then what?

Answer: deport him to Norway where Krekar has refugee status. Anyway, the Norwegians wanted Krekar on charges of "setting up a military organisation outside of Norway".

On the evening of Monday 13 January, Mullah Krekar was rushed to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and bundled on a plane to Oslo. Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said Norway had given assurances Krekar would be arrested as soon as his plane touched down.

By Tuesday, the Norwegians had not detained Krekar and Donner conceded that there had been a "misunderstanding".

Perhaps, but it is more likely this was an example of the ostrich policy the French excelled in during the turbulent 1970s. On several occasions the French (and other European nations) released jailed terrorists to end a hijacking.

While not advocating the introduction of totalitarian-style anti-terrorism detention laws here, the Dutch should have held Krekar until it was clear whether Norway intended to arrest him.

The Dutch government's weak-willed performance in the Krekar case is in sharp contrast to the way the Dutch police sometimes rush arrests.

Take, for example, the case of four suspected Islamic "terrorists" who were acquitted by a Rotterdam court on 18 December because the prosecution's evidence was obtained illegally.

The arrests and house raids were conducted on a tip-off from Dutch secret service AIVD, but the court ruled that the public prosecutor should have first conducted an investigation before the arrests were made.

The prosecution — which has appealed the ruling — messed this case up either through exuberance or a lack of knowledge of correct judicial procedure. Two of the former suspects are now free men, while the other two might be deported.

Interestingly, the court said that even if the evidence gathered during the searches had not been disallowed, there was no evidence to substantiate the prosecution's claim that some of the men were part of conspiracy to bomb the US embassy in Paris.

The public, are left in the dark here. Was there a real threat here or was the prosecution just trying to hype up its case?

The ruling under which the men were freed may have an important impact on forthcoming trials. Two other terror trials — set to start in March — might also be dismissed because the public prosecution carried out the arrests based only on information from the AIVD.

And the sensational run of misses does not end there.

Take for instance the escape of a suspected terrorist from the Breda jail in June 2002 last year. He is believed to have tied bed sheets together to flee his confines, but was re-arrested several months later in France.

Did the Dutch authorities ever think of building the prison walls a little bit higher?

Apparently not. Despite the fact that another detainee — who was not a terror suspect — escaped in August, prison authorities — in their infinite wisdom — said the two breaches did not warrant a review of the jail's security.

Meanwhile, an Amsterdam court rejected a request to extradite a senior member of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), Nuriye Kesbir, to Turkey for suspected terrorist activities. It based its ruling on the fact that membership of the PKK is not banned in the Netherlands.

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