“…the official counter is stuck at a total of 169 persons who left in the past two years…” Keep calm, carry on while houndreds of Muslims go to Syria to gain fighting experience and radical teachings before they return.
Translated by Thomas from De Telegraaf:
Actual number of Jihadist fighters from the Netherlands much higher than officials admit
The actual number of Dutch jihadists is much higher than the number officially communicated by the government, says scientist Pieter Van Ostaeyen, who is supported by Professor in Terrorism Edwin Bakker, by former DISS analyst Ronald Sandee and… by Dutch jihadists themselves.
In the most recent figures the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTb) recognizes that the steady increase in jihadists leaving the Netherlands has continued in recent months, but the official counter is stuck at a total of 169 persons who left in the past two years. Twenty of them have probably been killed by air strikes, internal conflicts and suicide attacks. 33 jihadists have probably returned to our country. An estimated hundred jihadists from the Netherlands are still in Syria and Iraq, including about thirty women.
The Flemish Islamic State expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen (37), who studied Arabic and Islamic studies, suspects that the official figures are knowingly kept low by the Dutch and Belgian authorities. He thinks that the real numbers are much higher, even though he only has indications to support that claim.
“Students of the Leiden professor in Terrorism and Counterterrorism prof. Dr. Edwin Bakker maintain their own database with the names of Dutch jihadists and it’s size already approximates the official numbers…” In other words, if students are able to collect this number of suspect’s names, secret services, with a better information position, should be able to track many more suspects.
Moreover, historian and Arabist Van Ostaeyen compares the situation in the Netherlands with that in Belgium and France. Belgian official numbers count that about 350 fighters left, of whom 50 have been killed. But even these much higher official numbers are too low, “In my database alone, I have recorded the names of 450 Belgian fighters. There might be some duplication in the records, but still… ” In France, the official number is 700 to 800 fighters.
“I suspect it’s part of a government strategy to downplay the problem. One factor is that governments do not want to stir up Islamophobia. But it would be better if the government would communicate clearly. If the truth eventually catches up with the official numbers, they better have a good explanation.”
According to Van Ostaeyen each month at least ten Belgian and ten Dutch fighters leave for Syria. The scientist’s view is confirmed by Dutch jihadists themselves, for example by the radical Muslim fanatic with the Twitter name “Abe Zakaria” from The Hague. “About ten leave every month, that means in 2014 alone, at least 120. The official number of 169 jihadists it totally wrong, the actual numbers are at least 300 up to 500 who left. A lot of fighters left of whom the government is completely unaware. From The Hague alone, at least one hundred jihadists left.”
The same eery estimate is made by Ronald Sandee, a former analyst with the AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands) and now Global Jihad Analyst with the consulting firm Kronos in the United States. He wrote a report “Inside the Jihad: Dutch Fighters in Syria”. He also suspects that the actual number of jihadists from the Netherlands is around 350. “Many families do not report that someone left because they do not trust the government or because they hope their children will return. Many parents support what their children are doing.”
For some months this newspaper has been maintaining a list of Dutch jihadists. This list is based on public sources such as (social) media, but also on the sanctions list of De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) that records the names of jihadists whose assets have been frozen and on official announcements from the municipal government about jihadists who have left and have been removed from the Basic Register of Persons.
This list now has 226 profiles of Dutch jihadists, not only from jihadists who left to fight in the Syrian Civil War, but also jihadists who were stopped, are in detention or have died as “martyrs”. There might be some duplication on this list, because of aliases used by the fighters.
Edmond Messchaert, spokesman for the NCTb, defends the official numbers, which are “determined by professionals based on information from the intelligence and security services.”
He denies that the official numbers are influenced by political motives. “We are as transparent as possible.” He called back after ten minutes, to make an important refinement: “I want to add that we rely on verified facts, not rumors or indications.”
Van Ostaeyen says that all European secret services are struggling to keep track of jihadists. Rob Bertholee, the head of the AIVD, acknowledged this point in a recent lecture at the Washington Institute in the United States about the rapid revival of jihadism in Europe and the Netherlands.
Bertholee: “Early 2013 within a few months more than a hundred people left for Syria.” Bertholee acknowledges that secret services are experiencing capacity constraints due to the high number of returning jihadists. They have to decide on a case-by-case basis which jihadists must be permanently monitored and which jihadists do not constitute a safety risk, “I have to be honest, and this is true for other services as well: as soon as the return rates go up, it will be difficult to monitor every returned jihadist.”
In short, the secret services are strained to the limit by the high number of jihadists. According to the official numbers, three thousand European fighters went to Syria and Iraq, and 300 of them have returned. Twenty men are needed to permanently monitor a dangerous jihadi.
Bertholee says it’s an illusion to think that all leaving jihadists can be stopped. If jihadists do not travel through the major airports but travel by car to Greece and there take a ferry to Turkey, there is no one who can stop them from reaching Iraq and Syria.
Bertholee’s remarkable openness during his speech at the Washington Institute is probably an indication of a forthcoming substantial adjustment of the official numbers. The AIVD thinks there are about a few hundred potential participants and a few thousand sympathizers in Dutch Jihadist groups.
According to Bertholee among the Dutch jihadists there are young people “from very good families, some of them even have a university degree. There is even a doctor among them. But there are also young people with a criminal background. At a certain moment, for example, we saw that seven young people from the same city went on jihad simultaneously, which immediately decreased the crime rate in that city.”
Bertholee is probably referring to Arnhem from which city a lot of jihadis have left, like for instance Abdelkarim el Atrach (28), who recently posted a video message from Aleppo calling for “a firm action” against the Dutch government as punishment for airstrikes on fighters in Syria. His video was the reason that Dutch soldiers no longer travel on public transportation in uniform.
According to Bertholee, most jihadists who left are Moroccans and are aged between 20 and 24 years old. The AIVD sees that the Dutch jihadists, who initially joined the Al-Nusra Front, now seek affiliation with the IS terrorist group, notorious for committing the most heinous crimes.
Another former employee of the MIVD (Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service) predicts a competition between Al Qaeda and IS; ‘points’ will be scored with attacks in Europe. “Al-Qaeda has regularly published hit-lists with the names of cartoonists and other public figures who in their eyes insulted Islam. On those lists were also Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the editor of Charlie Hebdo. AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) has proven very tenacious with their terror attacks against Westergaard, the newspaper Jyllands-Posten and Charlie Hebdo. That would mean that Wilders and Hirsi Ali are still at risk. It is very difficult to protect oneself against this kind of attack, no matter how many police officers patrol the streets. All you can do is to gather the best possible intelligence information. ”
Constant Hijzen, researcher and PhD student at Leiden University and at the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism in The Hague acknowledges that maintaining lists of suspected jihadists is extremely difficult, “You do not know what you do not see: the “dark number”. The secret services do not see all travel movements. It’s really a very complicated job. Mohammed Bouyeri, the murderer of Theo van Gogh, was considered unimportant, not as an important target for the secret service…”
Another source from the security services said: “The group that we keep track of consists of about 250 men. The size of the group that is not in sight is unknown, but we think it is considerable. The risk of an attack like the one in France happening in the Netherlands has clearly increased. This can be contributed to the risk of copycat attacks and repeated calls to kill the cartoonists and other public figures on the hit-lists.”
Terrorism Professor Edwin Bakker: “The official numbers from the government are a cautious, conservative estimate. They only take the people into account of whom we know with great certainty have traveled to Syria and joined a jihadist group. The numbers are substantiated conservatively, but that does not give the whole picture. Foreign fighters in the Syrian Civil War are aware of the consequences of their departure and participation in the struggle, and for that reason will not speak openly about their plans. “