July 12, 2005

Van Gogh murder suspect confesses to killing

By Paul Gallagher

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch-Moroccan man confessed in
court on Tuesday to murdering a filmmaker critical of Islam
last year, breaking his silence over a killing that fanned
religious and racial tension in the Netherlands.

Mohammed Bouyeri was accused of killing Theo van Gogh as he
cycled to work in Amsterdam on Nov. 2, 2004. He was charged
with shooting and stabbing Van Gogh before slashing his throat
and pinning a note to his body with a knife in broad daylight.

Van Gogh, a descendent of the brother of the 19th century
Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, was known for his outspoken
criticism of Islam and angered many Muslims by making a film
which accused Islam of condoning violence against women.

"I did what I did purely out my beliefs," the 27-year-old
Muslim told judges after entering court clutching a Koran.

"I want you to know that I acted out of conviction and not
that I took his life because he was Dutch or because I was
Moroccan and felt insulted," the suspected Islamist said.

The bearded suspect, dressed in a black robe and black and
white headscarf, praised Allah and the Prophet Mohammad before
admitting to the killing on the second day of his trial in
Amsterdam's high-security court.

Van Gogh's murder sparked a wave of attacks on mosques,
religious schools and churches in a country once renowned for
its tolerance, and raised questions about the integration of
the almost 1 million Muslims living in the Netherlands.


Van Gogh's slaying prompted memories of the murder of
anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn by an animal rights
activist in 2002 in a country grappling with fears of terrorist
attacks after its support for the U.S-led invasion of Iraq.

Bouyeri told judges he had acted according to his
convictions. Unrepentant, he told the victim's mother -- who
was in court -- that he did not sympathize with her loss and
would be prepared to do the same again.

Bouyeri could face up to life in prison if found guilty of
the murder. He faces other charges including the attempted
murder of police officers and illegal possession of weapons. A
verdict is due in two weeks.

Prosecutors say his acts had a terrorist intent and called
for him to be jailed for life. They described Van Gogh's
killing as a cowardly attack on a defenseless man.

"I take full responsibility upon myself," Bouyeri told the
court. "It would be cowardly if I hid here behind the rules of
the game by saying nothing and to avoid the chance of receiving
the maximum sentence."

Prosecutors say Bouyeri, who waived the right to mount a
defense, was a radical Muslim dedicated to a holy war against
the enemies of Islam and had murdered Van Gogh to spread terror
in the Netherlands.

"The cutting of Van Gogh's throat evokes beheadings in the
Middle East, the wars in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq,"
prosecutor Frits van Straelen told judges. The prosecutor
earlier read out detailed reports from witnesses to the

Prosecutors have said the accused believed he was doing
God's will and wanted to die a "martyr" at the hands of police.
The suspect was injured in a gun battle with police before he
was arrested in eastern Amsterdam shortly after the murder.

Bouyeri, who was born and grew up in Amsterdam, was accused
of a premeditated attack. Prosecutors say he ignored Van Gogh's
pleas for mercy.

The five-page note left pinned to Van Gogh's body quoted
the Koran and was addressed to Somali-born Dutch politician
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for Van Gogh's film
"Submission" about violence against women. She went into hiding
for weeks after the murder.