- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

AMSTERDAM — Dutch judges convicted nine men yesterday of belonging to a terrorist group, a landmark verdict that concludes promoting a violent version of Islam can itself be an act of terrorism.

The case opens a new way for prosecutors to stop potential terrorists and for the Netherlands to tackle the broader problem of the spread of radicalism among Muslim youth.

Attorneys for the men said they will appeal.

Two men received 15- and 13-year prison terms for attempted murder after a clash with police during their arrest. One received a five-year term for possessing a loaded machine gun. The convicted men, known as the Hofstad Group, included Mohammed Bouyeri, who already is serving a life sentence for the November 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

The rest were sentenced to up to two years in prison. All were found to have spread hate propaganda among their friends and on the Internet, encouraging Muslims to join a holy war against the West.

Geert Wilders, an anti-immigration politician who was threatened by the Hofstad Group, said the ruling didn’t go far enough.

“This is a judgment befitting a banana republic: very weak and unacceptable,” he said, adding that judges “don’t understand the threat posed by Muslim extremism.”

Though most sentences were short, the judgment was sweeping.

“Anyone who preaches hate and violence lays the basis for committing crimes directed at instilling fear among the people and destroying Dutch democracy,” said Judge Rene Elkerbout, reading the three-judge panel’s ruling.

“This is what the suspects contributed to. The court weighs that heavily against them.”

The convictions were won on the basis of new anti-terror legislation giving law-enforcement agencies more power to investigate terrorist suspects, including wiretapping, and raising the penalties for terrorism-related crimes.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende praised “police and prosecutors for getting a conviction.”

“This shows that the new laws we’ve passed are having an effect,” he said at his weekly news briefing. Membership in a terrorist organization was made a crime in a law that took effect in August 2004.

“It’s the first time a group has been found to be a criminal organization with a terrorist intent, and the suspects got heavier sentences because of that,” said prosecution spokesman Wim de Bruin.

Digna van Boetzelaer, a prosecution spokeswoman, added the decision “will help us in future terrorism cases.”

The van Gogh murder shook the Netherlands, once renowned for its peacefulness and tolerance, and led to a wave of violence in which mosques and churches were destroyed in retaliatory attacks.

Bouyeri was found guilty of being a ringleader of the group, but judges could add nothing to his sentence.

Two Dutch Muslims, Ismael Aknikh and Jason Walters, received the heaviest sentences for throwing a hand grenade during their arrest on Nov. 10, 2004, which injured five policemen. Walters, a convert to Islam, is the son of a U.S. soldier and a Dutch mother.

The Interior Ministry says the two are among 150 radical Muslims in the Netherlands capable of carrying out terrorist attacks. It estimates several thousand other youths are sympathetic to militant causes and susceptible to being recruited.

Muslims make up almost 6 percent of the Dutch population.

Prosecutors had argued the Hofstad Group was terrorist in nature because, in its vision of Islam, violence is the ultimate goal.

But the court rejected that reasoning. Drawing conclusions that the prosecutors had never argued, the judges said the group must be considered a terrorist organization because it “incited violence, or spread hate or threats” against non-Muslims.

They cited as an example the message Bouyeri had impaled in Mr. van Gogh’s corpse with a knife. It threatened Dutch politicians with death and Western governments with destruction.

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