AMSTERDAM, 11/03/06 - The district court in The Hague ruled Friday that the Hofstad group is a terrorist organisation. But it considered it was not proven that the group had carrying out terrorist attacks as its immediate goal.
Nine of the 14 Muslims on trial were part of a criminal organisation with terrorist aims, the court ruled. The heaviest sentences were for Jason Walters and Ismail Akhnikh, who were given 15 and 13 years in jail respectively. Nouriddin el Fatmi was given five years.
Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of Theo van Gogh, was the leader of the group, according to the judges. But no penalty could be imposed on him as he has already been given a life sentence for murder with terrorist aims. Above Bouyeri, there was a Syrian as ideological leader who has disappeared without trace, though he is suspected of being in Syria.
For the first time, suspects have now been convicted for participation in a 'criminal organisation with terrorist objective' on the basis of new legislation that came into effect on 10 August 2004. The judges however used a remarkably strict interpretation of the 'terrorist objective' concept in their verdict.
Under the new law, the 'objective' is the 'immediate goal' that is aimed for. Although "the planning and committing" of attacks on objects and persons "was perhaps indeed the ultimate goal," the group had as their immediate goal sedition, incitement to hatred and threatening with terrorist attacks. This does make it a terrorist organisation, according to the verdict.
The court believes that Bouyeri had help with the murder of Van Gogh. But evidence of this was not strong enough. A prisoner told the police that Hofstad suspect Bilal Lamrani told him that he supplied the weapon and the bicycle used by Bouyeri for the murder. Although this witness later withdrew his statement as a fabrication, the judge ruled that the statement was true all right, but still found it insufficiently hard evidence.
Walters and Akhnikh wounded five members of a swat team with a hand grenade on 10 November 2004. The judge considered multiple attempted murder proven. But remarkably, the court did not see the attack as a terrorist crime as it might have been the result of hatred of the police, which had nothing to do with the radical Islamic ideology of the suspects.
The police raided the home of Walters and Akhnikh in The Hague eight days after Van Gogh's murder. The two had counted on the raid beforehand, and agreed that one of them would throw a hand grenade as soon as the door was rammed. Walters, an American convert, eventually threw it. Akhnikh was technically an accessory.
The court also acquitted Walters and Akhnikh of hampering the functioning of MPs Wilders and Hirsi Ali. They threatened them with death in private conversations, but the two suspects could not know that they were being eavesdropped at that moment, according to the court.
Nor did the judges consider that it was proven that Nouredinne El Fatmi wanted to commit an attack. On his arrest in Amsterdam on 22 June, he was carrying a rucksack with a loaded machine-gun with a silencer and dozens of bullets.
The OM claimed El Fatmi was planning to assassinate Wilders and Hirsi Ali. The court ruled it was not certain that he possessed this weapon for the purpose of committing a terrorist crime, and not even for an ordinary crime. This may be plausible, but is not proven, was again the mantra of the judges here.
In the four-hour verdict, the court acquitted five of the 14 suspects. They had already been released earlier because their possible sentence would be shorter or the same as the time they had already spent in pre-trial custody. For the same reason, three of the nine who were convicted were also released Friday.
The OM had demanded 20 years for Walters and Akhnikh and 10 years for El Fatmi. It is likely that both the OM and most suspects' attorneys will appeal against the verdict. The whole case will then be tried over again.