Edition 30 October 2018, by Sagar Harinarayan
On Thursday 4 October, seven men were detained by police in Arnhem and Weert on suspicion of attempting to orchestrate a major terrorist attack. Hailing from Arnhem, Rotterdam, Huissen and Vlaardingen, these supposed masterminds intended to attack a large event in the country with bombs and AK47s. At another location, they hoped to detonate a car bomb, the exact purpose of which is still unknown. Various anti-terror units, search squads, special intervention teams, police helicopters and observation teams were deployed – about 400 people in all. House searches lasted the whole evening and three cars were seized in Weert. A suspect was found to be slightly injured during his arrest by the Special Interventions team, which has admitted that violence was used in the process, but no shots were fired. There is still speculation over the targeted event. National criminal investigation officer Wilbert Paulissen said: “We cannot be concrete about it now. It is clear that they were looking for a big event.”
In April 2018, criminal investigation began to focus on an Iraqi man aged 34, whom the AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service) suspected of planning a terror attack. This man, Hardi N, is believed to be the leader of a terrorist group, and was arrested in 2014 on suspicion of having been in Syria for terrorist purposes. During his trial in 2015, he said that he never intended to engage in terrorist activities, as ‘he was a believer, but not a radical one’. In 2016, he was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for the preparation of terrorist crimes. He was still serving a probationary period when he was caught last week. The Openbaar Ministerie (Public Prosecution Service) always kept a close eye on him and his aides, whose activities seemed to have been ramped up this month. “The AIVD always considers whether there are signs that someone is associating with suspect individuals and tends toward extremism. It can then use special means of investigation”, said Willemijn Aerdts, who conducts research into intelligence work at Leiden University. She continued: “The service can tap telephone traffic and observe and intercept e-mails. And if there is a concrete threat, as was the case with these seven, a signal is sent to the police in the form of an official request.”
Political reactions have been flooding in. Minister of Interior and Kingdom Relations Kajsa Ollongren expressed pride in the AIVD’s accomplishment and urged everyone to be supportive of the PPS and police. Justice Minister Fred Grapperhaus said shortly after the news broke: “In a sense, this is violent, but fortunately good news too. A terrorist cell was arrested and rolled up.” The mayor of Arnhem, Ahmed Marcouch, expressed shock and highlighted the deep impact this has on local residents. It is a major achievement for the country, as it gives residents renewed confidence in their leaders and protectors. Hopefully, this will lead to increased funding to implement the latest technology in crime prevention. One of the techniques which has been executed successfully in the Netherlands is use of big data to recognize possible perpetrators and enable the police to be pro-active and wellinformed. Knowing the what, who, when and where is essential to take appropriate action and ensure people are safe.
The latest raid included, four or five serious terrorist attempts have been averted this year. This is extremely worrisome, as every attack could have cost numerous lives. AIVD boss Robert Bertholee was asked about the Dutch secret in preventing attacks, while several neighbouring countries have borne the brunt of terror. He said: “I do not know. We keep track of all people who have visited Syria. But to be honest, it could also just be coincidence.” One hopes it is not mere coincidence that the police were able to prevent this very advanced attack. Terrorist activities are rampant across the world, and it is a sad truth that no place is safe. However, investment in solid preparedness and taking precautions will yield results. What the country has achieved this year will serve as a benchmark for the future.