Dutch ex­pert: Islamic State has 60-80 op­er­a­tives in Europe

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

NEW YORK: In­tel­li­gence ex­perts es­ti­mate that the Islamic State ex­trem­ist group has be­tween 60 and 80 op­er­a­tives planted in Europe to carry out at­tacks, the Dutch coun­tert­er­ror­ism co­or­di­na­tor said Fri­day. Dick Schoof said in an in­ter­view with The Associated Press that would be fight­ers are also heed­ing mes­sages from the mil­i­tant group “ask­ing them not to come to Syria and Iraq, but to pre­pare at­tacks in Europe.”

One re­sult is that over the last six months the num­ber of “for­eign ter­ror­ist fight­ers” hasn’t grown, he said, but the fact that they’re not trav­el­ing “does not mean that the po­ten­tial threat of those who would have trav­eled is di­min­ished.”

Schoof said mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions to oust the Islamic State from its self­de­clared caliphate in Syria and Iraq are scat­ter­ing the ex­trem­ist group’s fight­ers and sup­port­ers. This will prob­a­bly lead to a grad­ual in­crease of refugees that will pose a dan­ger to the na­tional se­cu­rity of the Nether­lands and other Euro­pean coun­tries, he said.

‘The chance of at­tack in the Nether­lands is real’

Schoof said even though the Nether­lands hasn’t been hit by a ma­jor at­tack by Islamic ex­trem­ists such as those in Bel­gium and France, “the chance of at­tack in the Nether­lands is real.” “We have seen 294 ter­ror­ist fight­ers go over­seas in Iraq and Syria and there are still 190 over there,” he said. “And what hap­pened in France and Brus­sels and Ger­many could hap­pen to us.”

There are prob­a­bly be­tween 4,000 and 5,000 Euro­pean “for­eign ter­ror­ist fight­ers” in Iraq and Syria, Schoof said. While the num­ber from the Nether­lands, a na­tion of 17 mil­lion peo­ple, may seem low, he said, “whether there’s 190 or 350, I think the num­ber is big enough to worry.” Schoof, who was in New York to speak at a round­table on “re­turn­ing for­eign ter­ror­ist fight­ers,” said the Nether­lands’ pro­gram to deal with the threat bal­ances “re­pres­sion and pre­ven­tion” and re­lies on strong co­op­er­a­tion be­tween lo­cal and na­tional au­thor­i­ties.

On the “re­pres­sion” side, he said, fight­ers re­turn­ing from Syria or Iraq are taken into cus­tody and pros­e­cuted, and courts have re­cently handed down sixyear prison sen­tences in sev­eral cases. The gov­ern­ment also takes away pass­ports, freezes as­sets, and has beefed up se­cu­rity mea­sures and the po­lice force, he said.

On the pre­ven­tion side, Schoof said, there’s a lot of fam­ily sup­port, with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties de­cid­ing the best in­ter­ven­tions and pro­vid­ing ed­u­ca­tion and psy­cho­log­i­cal help if needed - but there also could be ar­rests.

Jozias van Aart­sen, the mayor of The Hague, said build­ing trust and hav­ing close re­la­tions with the Mus­lim com­mu­nity is very im­por­tant. “They are Dutch ci­ti­zens,” he said. “There are some in the Nether­lands who say shut down mosques. That’s ab­so­lutely wrong pol­icy.” But Van Aart­sen said there is a need for vig­i­lance. “The ap­pa­ra­tus of lo­cal gov­ern­ment can be very im­por­tant as a watch­dog against rad­i­cal­iza­tion,” he said. Schoof stressed that the Nether­lands does not tol­er­ate “anti-demo­cratic be­hav­ior.” “We try to prevent hate preach­ers com­ing in by not giv­ing them a visa,” he said.

The gov­ern­ment is also concerned about the de­vel­op­ment of an ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive strain of Is­lam known as Salafism, he said. Last week, Schoof said, the Fed­er­a­tion of Mosques, with­out any urg­ing, sent a let­ter to all mosques in the coun­try say­ing “the mosques them­selves must re­al­ize that hate speech should not be ac­cepted in the mosques.” “Those are im­por­tant sig­nals that you can build on in your trust re­la­tion­ships,” he said. —AP

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