Tolerance in the face of terror?

16th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

The Dutch government has vowed to clamp down on Islamic extremists following the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. But what is the nature of the threat? Aaron Gray-Block reports.

Until a few years ago, Dutch spooks operated under the banner of the Internal Security Service (abbreviated to BVD in Dutch).

The shadow of the gun has settled over the Netherlands.

Local and foreign communists, leftist politicians and anyone else suspected of opposing the status quo, was shadowed and bugged by the BVD during the decades of the Cold War.

Suddenly, the collapse of Russian Communism put a question mark over the BVD's future. Was it needed now that the threat from Moscow had faded away?

Re-branded as the AIVD, or General Intelligence and Security Service in English, the organisation seemed bereft of enemies of the state.

September 11 in the US and more recently the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam on 2 November has changed all that. The focus is now firmly on "Islamic terror".

Armed with the promise of "several tens of millions of euros" in increased funding, the AIVD has been given new orders in direct response to the brutal assassination of Van Gogh. The organisation has been tasked with tightening surveillance on suspected "extremists" and preventing future attacks.

With 150 Muslims currently on its list of suspect characters, AIVD spokesman Vincent van Steen was unable to confirm how many more will be added. "It depends on the risk these people pose to us," he said.

At any rate, the AIVD will recruit several hundred people and expand its surveillance net to include people moving in close proximity to anyone considered a prime suspect of carrying out an attack.


Van Steen's statement is directly linked to the 26-year-old Dutch-Moroccan, Mohammed B., who was arrested for the brutal shooting and stabbing of Van Gogh in Amsterdam on 2 November.

The culprit left an letter, threatening attacks on other critics of Islam,  pinned to Van Gogh's body with a knife.

Mohammed B. had been under surveillance for a short period prior to Van Gogh's death. He drew the AIVD's attention on himself because he was associated with some of the prime surveillance targets among the group of 150.

The security service later lost interest in him because he was not considered a direct threat and the AIVD's resources were needed elsewhere. 

Despite the increased resources for surveillance, Van Steen said he could not rule out the possibility of new attacks or stand-offs similar to the one that occurred in The Hague on 10 November.

In that instance, four officers of a specialist arrest team were injured when hand grenades were thrown at them as they tried to carry out an early-morning raid on a house in the Laak district of the city.

A 14-hour stand-off ensued and two suspects were eventually detained after being subdued with tear-gas.
Calling for more co-operative efforts with the Muslim community to stop the process of radicalisation, Van Steen said the AIVD also needs to be "very creative and inventive" in its investigations because the threat of terrorism will remain for some time to come.

"It is a very difficult job to have a good eye on all those people who are both in the radicalisation process ,or in another way are willing to die for Jihad (holy war)," he said.

Theo van Gogh who was killed and shot to death in Amsterdam.

Mohammed B.

Edwin Bakker, a terror analyst with Clingendael — the Netherlands Institute of International Relations — said it is difficult to identify where the threat is coming from. The suspect in the Van Gogh killing was a well-integrated Amsterdam man.

Mohammed B. studied IT and later got involved in volunteer work to ease socio-economic problems in his local area of West Amsterdam.

In the last two years, he became "radicalised". He was a member of a  group of young Moroccan men who met regularly to discuss the Koran. He embraced very strict Islamic beliefs, grew a beard and took to wearing a Jellabah, a traditional Arab dress-like garment for men.

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