Thursday, November 25, 2004

Dutch Try to Thwart Terror Without Being Overzealous

Dutch Try to Thwart Terror Without Being Overzealous: "Dutch Try to Thwart Terror Without Being Overzealous
NY Times ^ | November 25, 2004 | CRAIG S. SMITH

Posted on 11/25/2004 10:05:52 AM CST by neverdem

AMSTERDAM, Nov. 18 - His telephone was tapped, his apartment was watched and many of his friends were already behind bars, so the Dutch authorities were not surprised by evidence that it was Mohamed Bouyeri, a Dutchman of Moroccan descent, who murdered the filmmaker Theo van Gogh in broad daylight one morning this month. Yet they had been powerless to stop the crime.

It is a problem faced by most European governments as radical Islam spreads across the Continent: how to arrest suspected militants before they act, without trampling on individual rights or risking charges of discrimination.

The government of the Netherlands has come under criticism for missing Mr. Bouyeri when Islamist death threats were made against Mr. van Gogh. But stopping him would have meant assessing guilt before the crime, Justice Minister Jan Piet Hein Donner said in an interview.

'You're dealing with processes that take place in one's head,' Mr. Donner said. 'We can't arrest people for wearing certain clothes.'

Mr. Bouyeri first came to the attention of the Dutch authorities in 2002, after he moved out of his family's home and rented a tiny one-bedroom apartment on quiet Marianne Philips Street in the Slotmeer district of western Amsterdam.

The apartment, in a two-story complex that rings a small park, soon became a regular meeting place for a group of young Muslims under the tutelage of a Syrian named Redouan al-Issar, known to the group as Abu Khaled.

The young men stood out with their flowing Arabic robes and beards in a tidy neighborhood where most of the residents were older and Dutch. Neighbors say they were always polite, though they received frequent visitors late into the night.

Mr. Issar, believed to be 43, sought political asylum in Germany in 1995 before moving to Amsterdam. By 2003 he had established himself as the group's spiritual leader and talked to them about "violent jihad," according to intelligence reports cited by the Dutch Justice Ministry in a recent report to Parliament. He often stayed in Mr. Bouyeri's cramped apartment.

But intelligence officials were more interested in a high school student named Samir Azzouz, who also attended the meetings at the apartment and who in early 2003 was arrested in Ukraine, apparently trying to make his way to Chechnya.

He was sent back to Amsterdam, where social workers and schoolteachers tried unsuccessfully to coach him through his final exams.

Months later, Spanish intelligence officials notified the Netherlands that they had intercepted communications between Mr. Azzouz and a Moroccan in Spain who was suspected of involvement in suicide bombings that killed 45 people in Casablanca in May 2003. A wiretapped conversation suggested that Mr. Azzouz and several other men were planning a terrorist attack.

The Dutch authorities found bomb ingredients in Mr. Azzouz's possession and remain convinced that a plot was taking shape. But Mr. Azzouz and the others arrested in the case were released within 10 days for lack of evidence. Mr. Issar, their spiritual leader, was eventually deported to Germany.

The Netherlands has since enacted a law making it a crime to conspire to commit a terrorist act. Like the rest of Europe, the country is gradually strengthening laws to thwart terrorists. Mr. Donner has asked for legislation to lower the threshold required for the police to hold suspects before they are charged - he wants suspicion alone to be enough.

He said the Netherlands was also going beyond many countries in Europe by seeking to allow prosecutors to use intelligence reports as evidence without revealing their source. "We are doing things that would be unthinkable in many other countries," he said.

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