December 4, 2005

Dutch suspected Islamist militants to go on trial

By Wendel Broere

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Fourteen men, including the jailed
killer of a Dutch filmmaker, go on trial on Monday accused of
planning attacks and belonging to a militant Islamist network.

Dutch police arrested the men, mostly with Moroccan roots,
after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh last November by
Mohammed Bouyeri, sentenced to life in jail earlier this year.

The trial is a key test of a new Dutch law, which
introduced the charge of "membership of a criminal organization
with terrorist intent" carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Another suspected Islamic militant, Samir Azzouz, who was
arrested before the new law came into force, was acquitted
earlier this year on charges he planned attacks on prominent
buildings, prompting calls for still tougher legislation.

Van Gogh's killing on November 2, 2004 stoked tensions with
the one million Muslims living in the Netherlands, about a
third of whom have Moroccan roots, and prompted a wave of
tit-for-tat attacks on mosques, religious schools and churches.

Two of the suspects, Jason Walters and Ismail Akhnikh, will
also be tried for trying to kill police officers with a hand
grenade when they arrested them and for threats to two
prominent politicians, who went into hiding after Van Gogh's

A third suspect, Nouriddin El Fatmi, is accused of a
weapons offence for carrying a loaded machine pistol.

The trial, in a high-security court in Amsterdam nicknamed
the "bunker," will start at 9.30 a.m. (0830 GMT) with
questioning of Amsterdam university Islam expert Ruud Peters
who analyzed data on computers seized in the suspects' homes.

The suspects, alleged members of what security officials
dubbed the "Hofstad group," will be heard from December 8,
starting with Mohammed Bouyeri, the court said.

Defense lawyer Peter Plasman argued in a September
pre-trial hearing that Bouyeri was being prosecuted twice, in
conflict with the rules of a good trial. But prosecutors
rejected the suggestion and said Bouyeri was central to the

The suspected group members met regularly in Bouyeri's
house, where they watched footage of beheadings and discussed
radical texts and their goals of establishing an Islamic state
and destabilizing society, prosecutor Koos Plooy said.

The date for a verdict for the two-and-a-half month trial
has been pencilled in for February 24.

The Dutch government has said the country faces a
significant threat of becoming the target of a terrorist

Its security alert level has been at "substantial" since
the bombing attacks in London on July 7, the second highest in
a four-stage warning system.

Police arrested another seven suspected Islamic militants
-- including Azzouz -- in October on suspicion of new plots to
attack politicians and government buildings.