December 5, 2005

Dutch suspected Islamist militants go on trial

By Wendel Broere

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Fourteen men, including the jailed
killer of a Dutch filmmaker, went on trial on Monday accused of
plotting attacks and membership in a terrorist network.

Dutch police arrested the men after the murder of filmmaker
Theo van Gogh last November by Mohammed Bouyeri. Bouyeri was
sentenced to life in jail earlier this year. He and most of the
other men are descendants of Moroccan immigrants.

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.

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, also called Fouad, is
charged with weapons offenses for carrying a loaded pistol.

The trial, in a packed high-security court in Amsterdam
nicknamed the "bunker," started with an attempt to question the
17-year-old former wife of one of the accused.

The woman, identified as Malika Chabi, refused to speak in
court, but the statement she had given to police earlier was
read out.


She said she had watched films showing beheadings and
killings at the home of Bouyeri and said El Fatmi and Bouyeri
had stolen sheep from a farm to practice slaughtering them.

"Fouad told me that Hirsi Ali and Theo van Gogh had to die
because of the film 'Submission'. Fouad hated them," she said
in her statement, referring to the film Van Gogh made with
politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali which accuses Islam of condoning
violence against women.

She said Fouad told her they should drive a car carrying
explosives into a shopping center and then quoted verses from
the Koran, her statement said.

"You also watched a film featuring Osama bin Laden in which
there were songs about jihad and that sort of thing, you were
given cassettes by El Morabit with sermons in which death was
wished upon the United States," the judge said.

Mohamed El Morabit is another one of the suspects.

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.

The prosecutor asked Chabi, who was dressed in a long
rose-colored robe with a black headscarf, whether she refused
to speak in court because she had been threatened.

The court was also due to question Amsterdam university
Islam expert Ruud Peters who analysed 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 Bouyeri, the court said.

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