AMSTERDAM — There are indications that other people knew of the plan to kill Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, the presiding judge said on the first day of the trial of Amsterdammer Mohammed B...
Judge Udo Willem Baron Bentinck referred on Monday to portions of the book of evidence that seemed to suggest that several alleged members of the Hofstadgroep may have been aware of B.'s plan. "But, I do not see hard evidence — one, two three," Judge Bentinck said.
A separate trial has already opened in Rotterdam against 12 young Muslims who are alleged to be part of the Hofstadgroep, a group that police say is a Dutch-based Muslim fundamentalist terrorist organisation.
Prosecutors in B.'s case claimed during a pre-trial hearing that he was a leading member of the Hofstadgroep.
B. was dressed in a dark djellaba robe with a Palestinian scarf covering his hair when he was brought to the high-security Amsterdam-Osdorp court in the morning.
He had indicated via his lawyer last week that he did not wish to have any part in the court case. The attorney general responded by getting a court order to compel his appearance, by force if necessary.
As expected, B. refused to contribute to the hearing and began by turning his back to the judges. He only broke his silence to confirm that he did not wish to add anything to statements made on his behalf by his lawyer, Peter Plasman.
Plasman had already indicated his client did not wish to defend himself against the charges of murdering Van Gogh and shooting at police. Plasman again told the court B. took full responsibility for killing Van Gogh.
The three judges expressed amazement that B. intended to sit unmoved in court as the case is outlined against him.
The judges read passages from comments made to police and bugged telephone conversations he had with acquaintances. B. was seen to smile on several occasions during the hearing.
B. indicated in these comments that he had wanted to be killed for murdering Van Gogh. "I swear to God if they had the death penalty, I would have begged for it. Idiots," he told his brother Hassan during a telephone call on 19 January this year.
In another conversation, B. told his brother: "Yes, I knew what I was doing. I butchered him." He then laughed, Bentinck told the court. B. also acknowledged the killing was a "terrorist action".
B. was wounded in the leg during a gunbattle with police shortly after he murdered Van Gogh. As he was being brought under guard to hospital, officers told B. he was lucky he had not been shot dead. "That was in fact the intention," B. answered.
Van Gogh appears to have been singled out because he had made a number of intolerant remarks about Muslims and had directed the movie Submission which sharply criticised the treatment of woman under Islam.
The author of the film, MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was threatened in a note B. pinned to Van Gogh's body with a knife.
The accused is described as Mohammed B. by media organisations in the Netherlands due to privacy concerns. He has been named in full by the foreign media.