Dutch security services : "We don't think we are safe" say terror attack is inevitable
August 8, 2005
Cosy concept of multiculturism is shattered
When Dutch spies and counter-terrorist agents come to work, the first sight that greets them is a shield engraved on their office's blast proof inner doors. It depicts three fish swimming through fast-moving water. Its Latin motto translates as "Against the Stream". "It's a message that the Dutch people, and politicians, don't always want to hear," explained an official.
The message coming now from Holland's General Intelligence and Security Service, or AIVD, could not be more clear.
"We don't think we are safe," said Vincent van Steen, an AIVD spokesman at the service's headquarters in an anonymous office block in The Hague.
Dutch police and security services do not just assume the country will be hit by a terrorist attack, they know one will come, said Mr van Steen. The attacks in London have only made that sense of imminent threat sharper.
"In the Netherlands we have some 10 to 20 radical Islamic groups of a violent nature, consisting of a few hundred members, we think, who are potentially violent."
The sense of tension at the AIVD is palpable. Its 1,000 or so civilian staff have worked gruelling hours since the Madrid bombings last year.
"The sense of urgency is very strong, and it became stronger after the London attacks," said Mr van Steen. "London is very close."
The AIVD was the first to raise the alarm that radical Islam posed a serious threat to Holland. For a long time, the Dutch public and their political masters did not want to hear. They had reached a cosy compromise with Holland's 900,000 Muslims. It was called tolerance and multiculturalism, though to many of the Turks and Moroccans who moved to Holland in the 1960s and 1970s, it felt more like indifference.
An American analyst, Robert S Leiken of the Nixon Centre, recently described Europe's multicultural experiment, witheringly, as "showering minorities with rights, while segregating them from, rather than absorbing them into society".
The AIVD is no longer swimming against the flow when it speaks of the dangers of "out of sight, out of mind" policies. In the words of one analyst, a single event, last November, served as "electroshock therapy" for Dutch society: the murder of the controversial film-maker, Theo van Gogh, as he cycled to work.
Mohammed Bouyeri, a young Islamic militant, who was jailed for life last week, shot him seven times and all but severed his head with a knife. As Bouyeri's life story emerged, public disbelief only deepened.
For most of his 27 years, he looked like a success story for Dutch multiculturalism. A good student at one of the better high schools in his poor Amsterdam neighbourhood, he volunteered as a youth worker at his local community centre, organising football matches with the police.
But he emerged from a brief spell in prison radical, and angry. He fell under the influence of a Syrian preacher known as Abu Khaled who is wanted in Morocco in connection with the 2003 Casablanca bombings.
Last week 11 young associates of Bouyeri appeared in a Rotterdam court accused of belonging to a network known as "The Hofstad Group". Like the July 7 bombers in London, the Hofstad suspects alarm counter-terrorist agents worldwide because they are home-grown, with EU passports.
Most of those who turn to strict Islam do not become violent and join networks. But common psychological threads have emerged from recent Dutch research.
"It has a lot to do with young people of the second generation, often of Moroccan descent, not feeling at home with their parents, not feeling at home in our society," said one official.
The AIVD has no answers to the central problem: how to keep young, alienated Muslims away from extremism. It can only keep up its sleepless watching and waiting - in line with the other, hidden message carried by the swimming fish on its official badge.
The badge, designed by the service's first chief, was intended to jolt the cosy Dutch establishment out of its complacency.
Drawn from an old medieval saying, the full motto is: "Living fish swim against the stream.
Only the dead go with the flow."