The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Agency (AIVD) announced today that the threat of local jihadist networks against the Netherlands has decreased. Dutch Jihadists appear to focus on jihad outside the country it is stated in the recent Dutch language publication ‘Lokale jihadistische netwerken in Nederland. Veranderingen in het dreigingsbeeld‘ (‘Local Jihadist Networks in the Netherlands. Changes in the security assessment’). This report is a follow-up on ‘Violent Jihad in the Netherlands. Current Trends in the islamist terrorist threat), published in 2006.
According to the AIVD local autonomeous networks from international recruiters have been reduced and subsequently also the threat against symbolic targets of the state, politicians and opinionleaders. The cause of the weakness of the local networks appears to be internal disagreement and lack of leadership. At the same time however, the local threat has gained a stronger international outlook. Within fringes of the local autonomeous networks their still exist the intention to participate in jihad. People try to join a jihad training or armed battle in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia or other jihad fronts. These contacts from the local networks with foreign jihadi groups can pose a threat to Dutch interests and those who return to the Netherland potentially constitute a threat on a European level. Also the continuing interest of international networks for Dutch targets in the Netherlands and abroad remains a threat, according to the AIVD.
I will not go into this report at length but I would like to add and criticize a few aspects.
- The AIVD sees the weakness of local networks and the contacts with international networks as a new development. It isn’t. The weakness of the local Dutch networks is a fact since the arrests of the Hofstad network, the Piranha network and the Tirana network (in particular the first two). Also the interest of Dutch Jihadi’s in fighting Jihad abroad is not new but exists for a long time already. In the 1990s a few Dutch jihadists went to Bosnia, later Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq became a focus for them. The focus on the Netherlands in 2003 and 2004 was caused by practical issues and the turn in the Islam debates after 2002 which put people like Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh in the spotlights.
- Several alledged recruiters have already been evicted (without trial) in the years before. The practices of those youth trying to fight Jihad (to my knowledge: about 10 people) abroad have already for several years (in fact after 2005) been characterized by a lack of involvement of recruiters (one of the reasons many feel to reach their destination).
- The contacts with international networks also have existed for many years although they are very unstable and the networks in general are characterized by fission and fusion. They diminished (but never completely disappeared) only temporarily in 2004-2006.
- Already in 2008 the AIVD noted an increase in activities from Jihadist networks ‘after a period of relative calm’ without represent a specific threat (although the threat level has been raised after that report from limited to substantial due the the release of jihadist networks elsewhere and the release of Fitna). Now the threat seems to have decreased compared to 2006. But when was the period of relative calm then according to the AIVD? And the threat level remains substantial.
So what’s really new? I don’t know. As usual I actually do not really understand what the AIVD is trying to tell us here. Of course the public needs to be informed but the report overall remains vague, hinting at several things but (of course) not substantiating their vague claims. I think the situation as actually back to where we were before 2003 with regard to the geographical focus of most jihadists. The only thing that really has changed is that the jihadist networks have become smaller (although I have to be careful with this because I do not know everyone) and even more fragmented than in the past. The old networks have fallen apart because of arrests and people who changed their minds and/or are otherwise engaged. New networks indeed exist consisting mostly of politically radicalized youth, some of them indeed interesting in fighting abroad but most of them can be considered as (and see themselves as) armchair jihadists.
Well there appears to be some new after all. The threat level has been lowered from significant to limited. This means:
that the chance of a terrorist attack against (interests of) the Netherlands is relatively small, but that it certainly cannot be entirely ruled out.
Duhh, of course it is impossible to rule out a terrorist attack, but do not make the mistake thinking this is entirely meaningless because in the past people have been arrested because authorities could not ‘rule out that they were planning a terrorist attack in the near future’