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4 Dutch Muslims Convicted in Terror Plot

December 1, 2006

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ A court Friday convicted four Dutch Muslims of plotting terrorist attacks against political leaders and government buildings and sentenced them to up to eight years in prison.

The heaviest sentence was reserved for Samir Azzouz, 20, who the judges said played a central role in the group and had prepared a suicide video meant to ``strike terrible fear into the Dutch people.″

Azzouz had been arrested twice before as part of investigations into alleged terrorist activities.

Nouredine al Fatmi, who is already serving a five-year sentence in a separate terrorist case, was given another four years, along with Mohammed Chentouf, for preparing attacks. Soumaya Sahla, al Fatmi’s wife, was given a three-year sentence for assisting the group.

One other defendant was convicted of passport fraud and sentenced to three months; a sixth defendant was acquitted of all charges.

Prosecutors say Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and former lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the creative partner of slain filmmaker Theo van Gogh, may have been among the group’s targets. The group also had plans to attack the headquarters of the Dutch intelligence service, they said.

The judges ruled that the defendants shared an ideology of jihad, or holy war. But they said the defendants did not comprise a terrorist organization, which likely would have led to longer sentences.

Evidence against Azzouz included the recovery of bomb-making manuals and radical Islamist propaganda seized from his home, and a tapped telephone call between him and a convicted terrorist also hinted that an attack was imminent.

The suicide video was an indication that Azzouz was close to achieving his objective _ ``such as an explosion that would mean the death of many people,″ said Judge E. Koning.

Speaking in his own defense, Azzouz said the videotaped suicide message was meant as a joke and he would never kill another person because that is forbidden under his interpretation of Islam.

All six pleaded not guilty. Defense lawyers charged that they were innocent religious victims of police harassment, that the weapons didn’t belong to them, and that the witnesses were not credible.

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