Emerson Vermaat: Exclusive Hofstadgroep trial report : Samir Azzouz -a terrorist in the making or a real terrorist?
Dutch court aquits terrorist - rules that 'clumsy and primitive' bomb making components precluded detonation
MIM: In his book "De Hofstadgroep" Emerson Vermaat wrote that Samir Azzouz was 'an angry young Muslim who was as dangerous as Mohammed Bouyeri'. Chemicals and plans were found in his Azzouz's indicating he was trying to make a bomb in his apartment and was suspected of planning a major terrorist attack, yet he was acquitted twice.
His most recent trial ended last week and was attended by Dutch counter terrorism expert Emerson Vermaat, who provided MIM with this exclusive report.
For more information on Emerson Vermaat go to his website:
MIM: To read Emerson Vermaat's indepth study of 'Bin Laden's Terror Network in Europe" go to the McKenzie Institute website: http://www.mackenzieinstitute.com/2002/2002_Bin_Ladens_Networks.html
"....Emerson Vermaat's exploration of al-Qaeda's networks in Europe is both timely and important on both sides of the Atlantic..."
Bio : Emerson Vermaat was born in 1947 and studied law at the State University of Leyden, the Netherlands. He is a senior television reporter who specializes in reporting on terrorism, transnational organized crime and war. He has published a number of books and essays on Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and the globalization of crime.
Samir Azzouz – a terrorist in the making or a real terrorist?
By Emerson Vermaat
Samir Azzouz, a second generation Moroccan immigrant, was born in Amsterdam-West (in 1986) where he also grew up. His parent's apartment was just one street away from the street where Mohammed Bouyeri, another Dutch Moroccan, lived. On November 2, 2004, Bouyeri killed Dutch filmmaker and columnist Theo Gogh – who in his view had offended Islam and the Koran. At that time Bouyeri no longer lived with his parents. He played a leading role in the so-called Hofstadgroup which regularly met at his own small house located in another part of Amsterdam-West. Samir Azzouz was also a member of the Hofstadgroup. This group consisted of about 10 to 20 young Moroccans who were looking for fresh inspiration in radical Islam. They were inspired by the terrorist attacks of September 11 which they considered an act of heroism and martyrdom. Many of them had first met each other in Amsterdam's radical Al-Tawheed mosque where the basis for the Hofstadgroup was formed.
Samir Azzouz was sent by his parents to a primary school called As-Siddieq. This is an Islamic School basing itself on a very strict interpretation of Islam. There are strong anti Western and anti Jewish tendencies. Teaching about the historical lessons of the ‘holocaust' is considered haram (forbidden by Islam).i So, it is very likely that the young Samir Azzouz developed some of his early radical ideas in the school benches of the As-Siddieq school. He may also have been influenced by other Dutch-Moroccan youths who used to assemble in August Allebé Square, not far from where he lived. In 1998, these youths were responsible for one of the most serious riots ever seen in Amsterdam-West
Osama bin Laden
On September 11, 2001, Samir Azzouz is a 14 year old secondary school pupil. His comment on the terrorist attacks in America was that they were ‘super just.'
‘Osama bin Laden is fighting the Americans in the same way as he was fighting the Russians (in Afghanistan). This can be compared to the Dutch resistance to the Germans (in the Second World War). As a Muslim, it is my duty to help my brothers.ii
Early 2003, Samir and his school friend Khalid tried to travel by train to Chechnya where they planned to join the Muslim resistance. They were stopped in the Ukraine near the Russian border and sent then back to the Netherlands. Samir was just 16 years old. The failed attempt by two teenagers from Amsterdam to travel to Chechnya received wide publicity. One of those who admired the two boys was a Dutch Muslim convert called Jason Walters (American father (who was in the US army) and a, Dutch mother) who would later play a major role in the Hofstasdgroup. It was probably Jason Walters who recruited Samir Azzouz into the Hofstadgroup. Apart from meeting in Amsterdam members of the Hofstadgroup also regularly met in the ‘Internet Phonehouse' in Schiedam. which was also frequented by Samir Azzouz. It was in Rotterdam (close to Schiedam) that he met his future wife Abida Kabaj from the Al-Aqsa Foundation (which was collecting money for Hamas).
In October 2003 Samir and his friend Ismail Aknikh traveled to Barcelona, Spain, to meet a Moroccan man called Abdelhamid Akoudad (‘Nadufel'). Shortly after this meeting Akoudad was arrested by the Spanish police. The Moroccan authorities believe that Akoudad played a leading role in the terrorist attacks in Casablanca in May 2003. In addition to being in touch with Samir Azzouz and Ismail Aknikh, the private telephone numbers of Jason Walters and Nadir Adarraf (a friend of Mohammed Bouyeri's) were later found in Akoudad's diary. From telephone intercepts the Dutch Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) concluded that members of the Hofstadgroup were preparing a terrorist attack in the Netherlands – in consultation with Akoudad. The AIVD also knew that Jason Walters had recently returned from a one month trip to Pakistan, and it was assumed that he had visited a terrorist training camp there (at the time the AIVD did not read his e-mails, but when his chatlogs were found later, it was discovered that he had indeed received such training).iii In fact, he had met people from the same group (‘Jaish-e-Mohammed') with which two of the London 7/7 suicide bombers had been in touch when the latter visited Pakistan between October 2004 and February 2005.
On October 17, 2003 five members of the Hofstadgroup were arrested. Among them were Jason Walters, Samir Azzouz and Bassem (or Redouan) Al-Issa, a failed asylumseeker from Syria and also a charismatic speaker regarded by the AIVD as the leader of the Hofstadgroup. Within a fortnight all were set free. There was not sufficient evidence, the intercepted phone calls were in coded language (like ‘playing a game,' meaning a terrorist attack). Al-Issa and his friends denied they had anythnig to do with terrorism. This is a very common pattern followed by radical Muslims involved in the preparation of acts of terrorism. There are also instructions in terrorist handbooks linked to Al-Qaeda:
‘Deny all information about you by the prosecution representative. Claim that the interrogation apparatus has fabricated those accusations and deny your connection to anything obtained against you.'4
What is being said in public by these people is the exact opposite to what is being said in private or when one is among trusted friends. A typical example is the following. In preparation of the major Hofstadgroup trial in December 2005, there were a number of so-called ‘pro-forma sessions' of the Rotterdam Court. Some female friends or relatives of Hofstadgroup members denied publicly that their friends or relatives were in any way linked to terrorism, but on the balcony above the court room these women made shooting gestures to the public prosecutor (as if they were aiming a gun at him) when he addressed the court. A better example is Soumaya, the girlfriend of a Moroccan Hofstadgroup member called Nouredine El Fatmi. He and his girlfriend were arrested in Amsterdam in the Summer of 2005. In his bag El Fatmi carried a machinegun. Before their arrest his talkative girlfriend had mentioned the gun in private telephone conversations. But in court she flatly denied that she knew anything about the gun. The judge did not believe her and gave her a nine months prison sentence. Shortly before she was arrested, she he had tried to find out what the private address was of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a member of parliament, and other important politicians targeted by extremist Muslims. The suspicion was that she and Nouredine El Fatmi planned a terrorist attack on a famous Dutch politician.
After his release at the end of October 2003, Samir Azzouz continued to make what looked like preparations for a terrorist attack. He had a job in a branch of Edah's Supermarket in Rotterdam. In April 2004, two men armed with machine guns robbed this supermarket. One of them was quickly arrested by the the police who arrived just at the moment when the two armed robbers left the supermarket. It was Ibrahim Bouchouari of the Internet Phonehouse in Schiedam, one of the meeting places of the Hofstadgroup. At the end of June 2004, Samir Azzouz himself was also arrested. The prosecution believed he was an accomplice in the crime. It turned out that Samir Azzouz and Bouchouari (as well as their wives) knew each other, not surprisingly, since both of them were often in the Internet Phonehouse, Samir as a visitor, Ibrahim because of his job. Samir had also opened the roll-down shutter when the two armed robbers arrived. (Ibrahim Bouchouari, however, refused to implicate others. He got a three year prison sentence.)
When the police searched Samir's apartment (which also belonged to his wife and his mother in law), they found all kinds of highly interesting things. For example:
- cartridge clips or magazines for the same type of machine guns used in the raid on the supermarket;
- a silencer for an automatic gun;
- a bulletproof jacket;
- nightvision goggles;
- ammonia and hydrochloric acid
- electrical circuits;
- fertilizer and a list of addresses where all kinds of fertilizers can be obtained;
- modifed Christmas tree lamps or lights
- surveillance sketches or plans of the army barracks in Roosendaal,, the buildings of Parliament, the nuclear power plant at Borssele Schiphol Airport, the Ministry of Defense and the headquarters of the Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD).5
Samir Azzouz had also made notes about the things he had seen during his surveillance of what obviously were potential targets. Notes like: ‘AIVD-building: gate opens and closes automatically' (Samir had actually been previously spotted by an AIVD videocamera); ‘Schiphol Airport: a car, a bag and two (bulletproof) jackets'; ‘nuclear powerplant: a ladder 3 meters high, a car and a big bag'; ‘(Ministry of) Defense building: a car and apples' (this is a terrorist codeword for grenades).
During the trial in Rotterdam Samir preferred to keep silent. His lawyers Victor Koppe and J. Pauw, argued that there was no proof that Samir Azzouz and Ibrahim Bouchouari knew each other, neither was there proof that Samir had anything to do with terrorism. What had been found in Samir's apartment was quite harmless. Moreover, there was no proof that all these things belonged to Samir himself as he shared the apartment with his wife and his mother in law, the lawyers said. The prosecution told the court that what had been found in the apartment clearly showed that Samir Azzouz was selecting targets for a terrorist attack. The prosecution also pointed out that there was sufficient evidence that Ibrahim Bouchouari and Samir Azzouz knew each other. Things belonging to Samir had been found in Bouchouari's apartment and vice versa.
Samir's own views on terrorism were clearly revealed during the hostage crisis in Beslan, southern Russia in September 2004. One thousand school children had been taken hostage by Muslim terrorists who threatened to blow up the whole school building if their demands were not met. In prison, Samir had seen the events on television. In subsequent telephone conversations with his wife, Samir praised the hostage takers. They had done ‘something very beautiful,' he said. His wife Abida said she pitied all those children and then added: ‘Yes, but life is hard,'[vi
In Samir's apartment police found martyr's testaments in the form of video testaments with texts like these:
‘Take up your guns and kill the Jews and non-Arabs whereever you meet them.'
‘I have a message for the pious fighter Sheikh Osama bin Mohammed bin Abdellah bin Laden. We love him so much that he is in our soul.'[vii
Samir called his son Sayfoudine (‘The Sword of Islam'). In his apartment a document was found which was written by Samir before his son was born. It said:
‘If I get a son, he must go to a training camp when he is 15 years old and stay there... His motto must be Tawheed (Unity) and Jihad (Holy War).[viii'
Such texts show Samir's real state of mind. He is fanatic and dangerous.
The ruling of the court
The court (Arrondissementsrechtbank) in Rotterdam ruled in April 2005 that there was no conclusive proof that Samir Azzouz and Ibrahim Bouchouari had collaborated in the robbery of the Edah supermarket, even though they knew each other. The court further ruled that Samir's denials that he had not been aware of two magazines (cartridge clips) stored in his apartment, were not credible. These magazines were suitable for the type of machine guns used in the robbery of the Edah supermarket. Yet, the court argued, there is no conclusive proof of a direct link between these weapon parts and the actual weapons used during the armed robbery. And Samir's act of opening the roll-down shutter does not proof that he did this deliberately in order to let the robbers in. There are indications for it, yes, but no there is no conclusive proof. As to the objects, the fertilizers, chemicals and documents found in Samir's apartment, all these things are not sufficient for a conviction either, the court argued. What is needed for a conviction ‘are acts of preparation which are closer to the beginning of acts of execution.' The court admitted that some of the things found in Samir's apartment ‘obviously point to a intention to commit a crime.' Radical texts on videos and diskettes justify the conclusion only that Samir Azzouz is interested in religious extremist violence.'
Thoughts and intentions cannot be punished, however. In other words, Samir Azzouz had only been in the initial stages of his planning and his views are a private matter. The problem here – and the court ignores this completely – is that such views can result in something very dangerous. Samir's friend Mohammed Bouyeri embraced the exactly same kind of religious extremism and then put them into practice by killing Theo van Gogh. Can and should we simply wait till a potential terrorist puts his extremist views into practice by staging a terrorist attack? How to define ‘acts which are closer to acts of execution'? There is no doubt that Samir Azzouz was planning something evil, it was by mere chance that these plans were discovered in his apartment when he was arrested in June 2004 (the reason for his arrest then was a suspicion that he was involved in the robbery of the Edah supermarket). It is quite likely that Samir's arrest directly interfered with his preparations for one or more acts of terrorism. Had he not been arrested in June 2004, he could very well have executed his plans at a later stage. But on April 6, 2005 the Rotterdam Court decided to set him free. He was only convicted for illegal possession of weapon parts (the two magazines and the silencer).
The prosecution appealed immediately. On November 18, 2005, the Appeal Court (Gerechtshof 's-Gravenhage) upheld the decision of the Rotterdam court and equally acquitted Samir Azzouz of the charges made. There was no conclusive proof that he was involved in the robbery of the supermarket. The Appeal Court did believe that Samir Azzouz was planning an act of terrorism. It adopted the findings of the Dutch Forensic Institute (NFI) that the totality of things found in Samir's apartment pointed to an intention ‘to make an explosive construction' (a bomb). However, Samir did not have a good detonator, nor did he have the right chemicals or the right kind of fertilizer. Nothing he had was really fit for causing an explosion or making a bomb. The Appeal Court: ‘In an obviously very clumsy way, he was looking for ways to make an improvised explosive construction (device) which would work.'[ix The Appeal Court further referrred to the sketches and maps or plans of Schiphol Airport, the AIVD building, Parliament, the nuclear powerplant at Borssele and the Ministry of Defense as being ‘very primitive and superficial.' Therefore, they cannot be used for a successful terrorist attack. The same Court admitted, however, that Samir Azzouz is a dangerous fellow: ‘Not only does he sympathize with terrorist actions but he also tried to put his radical ideas into practice through his involvement in the recruitment of "warriors" (strijders).' ‘There is no doubt about the full scale of the suspect's terrorist intentions.]x But ‘intentions' and ‘thoughts' or ‘ideas' are not punishable by law.
Praising Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi
The Appeal Court further pointed out that findings of the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) may result in actions by the police and the judicial authorities. If there are serious suspicions and there is a risk of a terrorist attack, arrests may have to be made, even if there is no conclusive proof yet or if subsequent investigations will not result in the conviction of the suspect(s).[xi In other words, arresting people like Samir Azzouz on the basis of serious suspicions and after a warning issued by the AIVD, is not wrong. In October 2005, there were new suspicions against Samir Azzouz and he was arrested again. These suspicions and allegations did not play a role in the decision of the Appeal Court which had to deal with charges made previously. The AIVD discovered a video testament in which a young man who most likely is Samir Azzouz himself announced that he wanted to die as a martyr in a terrorist attack. He praised ‘Sheikh Osama bin Laden' (‘May Allah protect him') and ‘Sheikh Mujahid Ayman Al-Zawahiri' and, last but not least, ‘our beloved Sheikh Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi' (‘May Allah protect him'). Addressing the Dutch people, the young man said:
‘We will revenge every Muslim who died while defending the Unity of Allah...You will be considered combattants because you elected this government. Your fortunes and your blood are legitimate to us.'[xii
According to a source from the Amsterdam police, a possible target was the Israeli airliner El Al. The source claims that Samir Azzouz and others were planning to shoot down an El Al airliner while it was landing or taking off at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. The reliability of this information could not be established. An attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner or plane had previously been made in Kenya but it failed.
There may be laudable and plausible legal considerations for the Appeal Court to acquit Samir Azzouz. The decision was hailed by a number of experts. And Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner refused to criticize the decision, something he had not done on previous occasions. But a good court decision must also take into account the threat such a person, once set free, really poses to society. The Appeal Court admits that Samir Azzouz is an individual with terrorist intentions.
The fact that his preparations were ‘clumsy' and his means were ‘primitive' cannot be an excuse, or a reason rather, to set him free. The only conclusion that a young fanatic like Samir Azzouz will draw from such a ruling is: ‘OK, what I did was clumsy and primitive, next time I will have the right means to carry out what I want to achieve martyrdom.' In other words, court decisions like this will not deter people like Samir Azzouz from trying it again, on the contrary, they will encourage him to continue to carry out his plans. It happened before – in other countries. In Spain, for example, there was the case of a dangerous Algerian terrorist called Allekema Lamari. He was jailed in 1997, but he appealed and in 2002 he was set free due to a legal technicality. The Spanish intelligence service CNI was quite upset (they had a huge file on him). In vain they pleaded for Lamari's immediate arrest. Lamari used his time to prepare the terrorist attacks which took place in Madrid in March 2004. Indeed, he played a leading role in them – as ‘chief of the terrorist commando,who laid the bombs in the trains.'[xiii He was also among the seven dedicated fanatics who blew themselves up when their apartment in the Madrid suburb of Leganés was besieged by Spanish special forces. A video was found in which he and his friends announced a series of new terrorist attacks. Wrong court decisions can have fatal consequences. The letter of the law should not always prevail over its spirit.
In Germany there was a man called Christian Ganczarski. He was directly linked to the terrorist attack in Jerba, Tunesia, in April 2002. The German authorities refused to arrest him fearing they would loose the battle in court. Ganczarski and one of his friends then planned a terrorist attack in Réunion – which was French territory. It was subsequently decided to have him arrested in France where anti-terrorism laws are much tougher. This is a shame, of course. Not daring to arrest terrorists involved in the planning of attacks in other countries simply because the domestic authorities are afraid of a negative result in the court room and then ask a neighboring country to take action needed so urgently.
The problem in the Netherlands is that courts tend to release too many people who, once released, continue to pose a threat to society. Samir Azzouz was only one of them.
Emerson Vermaat, M.A. (law) is author of a recent study on ‘The Hofstadgroup' (a terrorist network in the Netherlands). He was present at the trial of Samir Azzouz.
1 Fenny Brinkman, Haram (Amsterdam: uitgeverij Balans, 2005), p. 45, 46.
[11 Emerson Vermaat, De Hofstadgroep. Portret van een radicaal-islamitisch netwerk Soesterberg: Uitgeverij Aspekt, 2005), p. 101.
[iii Emerson Vermaat, De Hofstadgroep, p. 76, 77, 89-93, 103-105.
[iv Emerson Vermaat, De dodelijke panning van Al-Qaida (Soesterberg: Uitgeverij Aspekt, 2005), p. 81, 86.
[v Emerson Vermaat, De Hofstadgroep, p. 111-113.
[vi Emerson Vermaat, De Hofstadgroep, p. 115. Telephone conversation on 8 September 2004 (Samir Azzouz over Beslan: ‘Iets heel moois.')
[vii Emerson Vermaat, De Hofstadgroep, p. 110
[viiiQuoted in Gerechtshof te 's-Gravenhage, meervoudige kamer voor strafzaken, Arrest gewezen op het hoger beroep tegen het vonnis van de rechtbank te Rotterdam van 6 april 2005 in de strafzaak tegen de verdachte Samir Azzouz, parketnummer 10-030075-04, LJ-nummer AU6181, 18 november 2005, p. 32.
[ix Gerechtshof te 's-Gravenhage, Arrest, p. 36.
[x Samenvatting van het op 18 november 2005 door het Gerechtshof 's-Gravenhage uitgesproken arrest in de strafzaak in hoger beroep tegen Samir Azzouz, geboren te Amsterdam in 1986. p. 5, 6.
[xi Gerechtshof 's-Gravenhage, Arrest hoger beroep Samir Azzouz, p. 33
[xiiText in possession of author. See also: Nova (Dutch TV), 4 November 2005 and comments made by Siem Eikelenboom.
[xiii Emerson Vermaat, De dodelijke planning van Al-Qaeda, p. 142, 143
24 November 2005
Expatica & ANP
AMSTERDAM The Public Prosecutor's Office (OM) has lodged an appeal for cassation in relation to the second acquittal of Dutch-Moroccan terrorist suspect Samir A. last week.
The Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) will be asked to decide whether an appeal court applied the law correctlyÂ when it cleared A., 19, of plotting terrorist attacks on key targets in the Netherlands in 2004. The Supreme Court will not adjudicate on the facts of the case.
The judges of the appeal court ruled that A. had "terrorist intentions" but not the means to carry out his plans. His plans were "so inept and primitive" that they did not pose a real threat. "The suspect was left with practically empty
The intention to carry out a criminal act is not sufficient grounds for a conviction and therefore A. was acquitted on the charges of plotting attacks and being an accessory to an armed robbery at the supermarket where he worked in Rotterdam in 2004.
A. was among a group of Dutch Muslims arrested in October this year when police allegedly found a 'video testament" in which A. referred to an act he had carried out. This is a separate case that has yet to be finalised.
The OM said on Thursday it felt the appeal court judgement gave rise to "starting points" for an appeal for cassation.
Back in April the trial court acquitted A. of the 2004 charges on the similar grounds. Prosecutors appealed in the hope the higher court would accept materials found in A.'s home in Rotterdam would be sufficient to prove the case against him.
Among the items found were sketches and self-made plans of several potential targets, including the Dutch Parliament, the Borssele nuclear power plant and the headquarters of the security service AIVD.
Police also found a silencer and an empty ammunition clip for an automatic weapon, videos and books about Jihad. Fertiliser found in the house indicated A. was trying to make a bomb but the fertiliser being used was unsuitable, the prosecution claimed.
The trial court jailed him for three months for possession of the silencer and ammunition clip. The judges said there had to be suspicions he was planning terror attacks, the evidence was insufficient.
In January 2003 A. was arrested in Russia. He and a school friend were allegedly on their way to Chechnya to fight for the jihad. However, the pair of 17-year olds lacked proper passports and clothing and had to return to the Netherlands.