Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Dutch reaping what they have sown

The radicalisation of Muslims in the Netherlands continues and is now reaching out to young people of Turkish origin. Despite a series of arrests, the possibility of terrorist attacks cannot be ruled out, and it will take several more years before the AIVD – the Dutch secret service - reaches something near full strength. These are just some of the conclusions of the AIVD’s annual report for 2004, presented at the end of last week to the parliament in The Hague.

The head of the intelligence and security service, Sybrand van Hulst, refrained from using the kind of pessimistic words he uttered just a year before: ‘those fighting terrorism are not winning. There is not even a prospect of winning.’ But the message contained in the report on 2004 - the year in which filmmaker and writer Theo van Gogh was murdered - makes sombre reading nonetheless.

Ongoing radicalisation
Although the arrests of main suspect Mohammed Bouyeri and other members of what has been dubbed the ‘Hofstad’ group - which followed Mr Van Gogh’s death - removed part of the potential threat to the country, the process of radicalisation among Muslim youth in the Netherlands continues unabated. Developments abroad, in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya, play a role in that radicalisation, but paradoxically the very successes of the authorities, including the AIVD, have also contributed to a dramatic shift in attitude among some young Muslims.

New heroes
The AIVD report identifies 16-25 year olds as the main risk, with some in that age group having come to regard Mohammed Bouyeri and Samir Azzouz as heroes. Another development, identified by the AIVD for the first time, is the transfer of radical Islamic ideas to a small number of young people of Turkish descent.

Sybrand van Hulst told Radio Netherlands that he remains pessimistic:

“The threat of radical Islamic terrorism has grown in recent years, and continues to do so, both at home and abroad. In addition to that, we are also dealing with small, local networks of Muslim youths.”

While the phenomenon of local networks has received a great deal of media attention recently, the AIVD warns against losing sight of the international aspect of the potential terrorist threat to the Netherlands. The annual report states that ‘in 2004, the AIVD carried out investigations into a number of internationally operating cells which were also active inside the Netherlands.’ The investigations apparently revealed that these cells maintain a wide range of international contacts and involve extensive foreign travel:

“So far, it has not been established that these cells are being directly controlled from a higher level, but there is certainly evidence pointing in that direction.”

Controlled from above
At the presentation, Mr van Hulst refused to provide details on the number of cells involved or about their being managed from a higher level, nor did he comment on activities undertaken by his service which may have prevented potential attacks.

He did, however, make it clear that the AIVD is fully conscious that radical Muslims know they’re being monitored:

“That has sharpened their awareness of their own security, so we need to proceed creatively. I assure you that we are doing precisely that.”

Cat and mouse
This game of cat and mouse with potential terrorists was made that much trickier for the AIVD during the course of 2004 because the killing of Theo van Gogh resulted in a great deal of information about the service appearing in official government reports. Mr Van Hulst commented: ‘That was a political necessity, but the growing disclosure of secret information and the service’s working methods is not making it easy.’

The annual report also shows that the task of combating terrorism is taking place at the expense of other activities, including counter-espionage and the active acquisition of information from abroad. The latter is, according to the report, now taking place on the basis of what is know as a ‘vari-focus model’: the main focus of attention is directed at the most important issues and countries, with other issues being dealt with more superficially.

Growing bigger
Over the coming years the AIVD is to be expanded considerably, from around 1000 staff at present to, as Mr van Hulst explained, ‘somewhere between 1400 and 1500 in the year 2007-2008.’ He added that it takes an average of three to four years for an AIVD staff member ‘to get to grips with the things that have to be done.’ On that basis, it’s possible to conclude that the full effect of the increase in capacity will not be felt for some time
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