Van Gogh killing ‘highlights risk from home-grown terrorists




By Mark Huband in Amsterdam

Financial Times, 11 November 2004

Serious weaknesses in Europe’s attempts to identify indigenous Islamic radicals have been exposed by last week’s murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, according to counter-terrorism experts who see the killing as a new development of the global terrorist threat.

Their worries were highlighted by a report given to the Netherlands parliament on Thursday. It showed that Dutch security services have been trailing a Netherlands-based international network of Islamic radicals called the “Hofstadnetwerk” since the summer of 2002.

Mohamed B, charged last week with Mr Van Gogh’s murder, is said to have been a peripheral member of the group. Subsequent arrests have given European security officials important new insights into the fragmented and localised character of the terrorist threat.

Experts fear they are witnessing the start of a new phase of the threat that bears little resemblance to the original al-Qaeda network. “The incidents in the Netherlands are an historic development,” said a senior European counter-terrorism official on Thursday. “It has revealed the evolution of the threat. There’s been a very rapid development of events and we are badly prepared, as the experience in the Netherlands has shown. What has been exposed is the gap in the effort to deal with the threat,” he said.

The Dutch report reveals that the Hofstadnetwerk comprised a central core of fewer than 10 people, though it may have had contacts with up to 200 others in the Netherlands. Two group members are known to have visited the Pakistani side of the disputed region of Kashmir. Two others are also thought to have visited Chechnya and one was arrested in the Netherlands in October. The report says some members also had contacts with Abdelhamid Akoudad, who was arrested in Spain last year for his alleged role in several bomb blasts in Casablanca in May 2003.

However the absence of clear external influences on the group’s activities suggests that its alleged plans were conceived by its members, with minimal or no reference to other extremist groups.

The failure to detect and act on the potential threat posed by Mohamed B was partly due to inadequate co-ordination between branches of the Dutch security service, counter-terrorism experts and officials acknowledge.

Such flaws are seen as damaging to the Europe-wide counter-terrorism effort at a time when the emergence of radicals from within European countries is transforming the profile of the terrorist threat. “Terrorism is understood to be events like September 11. But then we have somebody who kills a guy on a bike. So we weren’t prepared for anything,” said Edwin Bakker, a terrorism and security expert at the Netherlands Institute for International Affairs, referring to Mr van Gogh’s death.

He said the fragmentation of the network once connected to al-Qaeda made the need for cross-border co-operation even greater, as investigations focus on previously unknown individuals who are in the process of radicalisation, rather than people arriving from abroad. EU officials share this view.

“The spiral in terms of violence that we have witnessed in the Netherlands is of more than just a domestic concern,” Gijs de Vries, the European Union’s counter-terrorism co-ordinator, told the FT on Thursday.

All European security services are agreed that the terrorist network centred on the al-Qaeda leadership has mutated into a patchwork of smaller groups. Several countries including Spain, Australia and Canada are modelling their analytical processes on the UK’s joint terrorism analysis centre (JTAC), which groups all the terrorism analysts from the UK’s intelligence, police and diplomatic services in one place.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.