They approve of beheadings and their heroes are Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They call themselves "polder-mujahideen" and "lions of tawheed" (unity). They are the 14 Dutch jihadists currently on trial in Amsterdam.
In September 2003, the Dutch Security and Intelligence Service (AIVD) coined the term "Hofstadgroup." It refers to a group of young radical Muslims, most of whom were first or second generation Moroccan immigrants, who held regular meetings in the house of Mohammed Bouyeri in Amsterdam. This is the same Bouyeri who on November 2, 2004, killed Dutch filmmaker and columnist Theo van Gogh. This summer, a Dutch court in Amsterdam sentenced Bouyeri, who once called the 9/11 terrorists "martyrs," to life for murdering Van Gogh. Now he is on trial again for his leading role in the Hofstadgroup.
Another leader of the Hofstadgroup was a failed asylum seeker form Syria named Redouan al-Issa. He appears to have known of Bouyeri's plan to kill Theo van Gogh, because a few days before Van Gogh's murder he booked a ticket and left for Istanbul on the very morning Theo van Gogh was killed. His whereabouts are unknown, but there are rumors that the Syrian intelligence service arrested him after he returned to Syria.
In its early stages, the trial has centered on the Hofstadgroup's fascination with decapitation. On the stand on the first day of the trial in Amsterdam, Rudolf Peters, a Dutch professor of Islamic Law, confirmed that beheadings were customary in the time of the prophet Mohammed and that a Muslim can behead someone today and then claim that in doing he followed the Prophet's example. This explained why members of the Hofstadgroup watched videos and film footage showing beheadings in Iraq and Chechnya. For them, these beheadings were part of a holy religious ritual.
But some members of the group were more fanatical than others. Especially dangerous were the hard-core believers closest to Mohammed Bouyeri, the inner circle of about 5 to 6 young men. Mohammed el Morabit, a Moroccan member of the Hofstadgroup, who was not among the fanatics, told his Dutch interrogators that Mohammed Bouyeri became virtually ecstatic when he watched horrifying snuff films. In Bouyeri's house, a CD-rom was found with films showing images like the public amputation of a penis and sex with a dead female body.
Perhaps under the influence of his viewing habits, Bouyeri also tried to decapitate Theo van Gogh with a big knife, at which point he discovered that it was not so easy. In the months or weeks before the murder, he had tried to perfect his decapitation technique on one or more stolen sheep. A book on Zarqawi was also found in Bouyeri's house, the notorious Jordanian Al-Qaeda terrorist who introduced the terror cult of decapitation to Iraq.
Beheadings became an obsession for the Hofstadtgroup. Nouredine el Fatmi, another prominent member of the Hofstadgroup and also on trial in Amsterdam, told his 16-year old girlfriend Malika Shabi: "If you behead someone, you must do it slowly and cut the throat first, but not entirely. This is more painful and it will prolong the suffering of your victim."
El Fatmi was close with Bouyeri. In the summer of 2004, he and Shabi went to Bouyeri's house in Amsterdam in order to be married according to the Islamic tradition. (Such "marriages" are quite common among radical Muslims; the woman in question has no rights whatsoever and the man can "divorce" her anytime and find another mate. These 'Islamic marriages' are not recognized by the laws of Western secular states.) Bouyeri himself led the wedding ceremony, and the newlyweds spent the night in Bouyeri's small and highly uncomfortable place looking at violent film footage about the jihad and the killing of infidels.
In June 2005, El Fatmi was arrested in Amsterdam. In his backpack the police found a loaded machinegun. He was accompanied by Soumaya, one of his many girlfriends. With Soumaya's help he planned to assassinate a Dutch politician whom he considered an enemy of Islam, but his timely arrest prevented him from carrying out his plan.
After El Fatmi's arrest, his so-called wife, Shabi, gave the Dutch police a detailed description of what was really going on inside the Hofstadgroup. Shabi confessed that she fell in with the group because El Fatmi looked handsome and he was charming. He was also convincing: He and his friends showed her film footage about the suffering of Muslims, a female suicide bomber, and Osama bin Laden. She further told the police that El Fatmi--"Fouad" as she called him--wanted her to become a "martyr." He had shown her knives and explained how to decapitate somebody. He had also told her that one day they would drive a car loaded with explosives into a shopping center. "At that time I was impressed by all of this," Shabi told the police. She also told the police that El Fatmi had approvingly referred to Mohammed Atta, the operational leader behind 9/11, as "a good boy."
Shabi's statement was summarized in an official police document. The prosecution wanted her to testify at the Hofstadgroup trial. But then she and members of her family began to receive serious threats. A letter addressed to her arrived in the mailbox of her parents, who hated Nouredine el Fatmi and his friends. The letter ordered Shabi to change or withdraw her statement to the police. "It is not allowed for Muslims to collaborate with unbelievers, especially if it is directed against Muslims," the letter said. "Don't you fear the curse of Allah? May Allah lead you or break your back." Shabi, now only 17 years old, and her family were terrified. Although she denied it, it was a clear death threat. In court, Shabi did not want to look at the other defendants, keeping silent all the time and refusing even to answer introductory questions by the judge such as: "Is your name Malika Shabi?"
It was not the first time that people who provided the police or the judiciary with information about the Hofstadgroup or similar terror networks received serious threats. The group operates like the Italian mafia: Those who do not honor the oath of silence -- the Islamist Omerta -- will be liquidated.
Not on trial in Amsterdam is Samir Azzouz, a close friend of Mohammed Bouyeri and Jason Walters, an Islamist who will stand trial for attempting kill police officers with a hand grenade when they attempted to arrest him. Recruited into the Hofstadgroup by Walters, Azzouz is one of the most dangerous members of the Hofstadgroup, belonging to its inner circle. There was a separate trial this year dealing with charges not directly related to his membership in the Hofstadgroup, like his possible involvement in the robbery of a supermarket and suspicions that he planned a terrorist attack on his own. But he was acquitted both by the court and the appeals court for lack of evidence. It was a highly controversial court decision and it was not the first time that a Dutch court acquitted a dangerous terrorist suspect. (There is, for example, the case of Murat Ofkeli who was linked to an extremely dangerous Algerian terrorist group, he was released in 2003 by the Rotterdam court and after his release he simply continued to recruit people for the jihad.)
Likewise, Samir Azzouz, once released planned new terrorist attacks and he was arrested again in October 2005. The main reason for his arrest was the discovery of a so-called video-testament in which Azzouz announced that he was willing to die as a martyr. He praised "Sheikh Osama bin Laden" ("May Allah protect him"), "Sheikh Mujahid Ayman al-Zawahiri" and "our beloved Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" ("May Allah protect him") all of whom "warned you (the Dutch people) repeatedly." Azzous was candid about his agenda: "We will revenge every Muslim who died while defending the Unity of Allah," he claimed. And to the Dutch people he said: "It is allowed to kill you and confiscate your property."
Azzouz, in common with the Islamist gang of 14 who went on trial this week, is an incurable fanatic and as such extremely dangerous. All of them believe in the glory of suicide. They admire Zarqawi and Bin Laden and their evil ideology of death and destruction. Nor is prison the worst of all possible outcomes for the members of the Hofstadgroup. As they see it, it is just another recruiting ground for their extremist cause.
By Emerson Vermaat
Emerson Vermaat studied law at the Univeristy of Leiden, the Netherlands, and he is the author of a Dutch book on the Hofstadgroup: 'De Hofstadgroep, Portret van een radicaal-islamitisch netwerk' (Aspekt Publishers, Soesterberg, The Netherlands, Ocrober 2005).