The Hague, Netherlands - Three Dutch citizens were arrested last week on suspicion of recruiting for the hard-line Islamic State (IS) group in its armed struggle in Syria and Iraq, as tensions between radical Muslims and Holland's far-right Pro Patria organisation continue to rise.
The men detained come from The Hague, the city that positions itself as an international city of peace and justice, and which Islamic State sympathisers have also named "Jihad City". Mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, said during a press conference that they had caught "big fish" who had "sown hatred and incited terrorism" on social media and news sites.
One of those detained is 32-year-old Azzedine Choukoud, known as Abou Moussa, a charismatic Dutchman of Moroccan descent. He has been involved in demonstrations in recent years, and has been in contact with fighters in Syria. In a YouTube video, he congratulated the Muslim community on the establishment of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria. A few young men hold up a black IS flag in the background.
According to the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service, the Islamic State movement in the Netherlands amounts to a few hundred followers and several thousand sympathisers. Edwin Bakker, director of the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism at Leiden University, estimated that The Hague's Islamic State supporters consists of 200 men.
Every Muslim is basically in favour of the establishment of an Islamic state.
They come from Schilderswijk neighbourhood, which the media have renamed the "sharia triangle". This neighbourhood primarily houses immigrants, as do many neighbourhoods in large Dutch cities - in this case more than 90 percent of the population are immigrants. Dissatisfaction is common and unemployment, crime, and poverty rates are higher than in the rest of the country.
Flying IS flags
Over the past few months, several pro-Gaza demonstrations have been held in the district, at which a number of people were seen waving IS flags. The radical anti-immigrant, right-wing organisation Pro Patria (For The Fatherland) then held counter-demonstrations.
"No jihad in our street," shouted the Pro Patria demonstrators. Their "March for Freedom" went straight through the Schilderswijk area, and the mobile unit of the Dutch police force had to keep the two groups apart. The website De Ware Religie (The True Religion), which the government claims glorifies the jihadist ideology, and which the men arrested on August 28 wrote for, reported on "the battle for the Schilderswijk".
For more than a year, police in The Hague have investigated people who are joining IS and its sympathisers. Five suspects are currently detained. According to the General Intelligence and Security Service, the war in Syria and, especially, the declaration of the caliphate have been a magnet for potential jihadists.
Some 100 to 200 Dutch citizens have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight, and 33 of them come from The Hague. A few recently made themselves heard in a video, in which they reported on their "territory monitoring in the abandoned city of Aleppo". At least 14 Dutch citizens are known to have died in Syria.
Several dozen religious fighters have since returned and it is feared that they will carry out attacks in the Netherlands. An attack by a returned fighter occurred in neighbouring Belgium on May 24 at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, where four people died.
|Police officers arrive to stop a protest against Muslim radicals and Islamic State in The Hague in August [EPA]
The Dutch cabinet announced a number of measures against religious fighters on August 29. More options will be introduced to revoke Dutch citizenship, and steps will be taken to counter the spread of radical and violently religious information on the Internet. Imams should be prevented from inciting hatred and key figures should ensure that young people are not radicalised, authorities said.
The Hague's problems with radical Muslims are not new. Since 2000, popular Syrian imam Fawaz Jneid has given fierce sermons from the Salafist As-Soennah mosque. He has called for the deaths of critics of Islam, such as the politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali and filmmaker Theo van Gogh. A member of a radical group in The Hague, de Hofstadgroep, killed the filmmaker in 2004.
All sorts of deradicalisation programmes followed the 2004 killing, and the As-Soennah mosque had to change its course. The mosque's board now states on its website about the Islamic State group: "No sensible person wants to associate themselves with the bloody onslaught of this aberrant group, let alone sympathise with it."
An organisation that speaks on behalf of 380 mosques in the Netherlands, the Contactorgaan Moslims en Overheid, distanced itself from the IS after the pro-IS demonstrations as well. In a press release, they called it "shameful" that some Muslim young people have sympathy for IS. "We interpret these rebellious expressions in the light of social dissatisfaction with their own position," it said.
In conunction, most Muslims in the radical scene are wary about stating their support for Islamic State, especially after the recent arrests.
"Every Muslim is basically in favour of the establishment of an Islamic state," claimed the Salafist preacher known as Abu Hafs. He is the spokesman for the Bewust Moslim group. "But it is premature to judge whether the IS is the designated party," he continued. "Not enough is known about the organisation, and the opinions among Muslim scholars are divided."
Ali Abu Safiya, spokesman for Moslims in Dialoog, a similar platform, said only a small part of the Muslim community in the Netherlands supports the IS unconditionally and "applauds everything they do".
"A larger group condemns the IS entirely. Like the vast majority, we are not for or against the IS, but we have a more nuanced position," he said.
According to Abu Safiya, the one-sided, inaccurate reporting about Islamic State and the "demonisation of its sympathisers" is a major reason for "the increasing sympathy" for the group.
Demonstrations against IS
|Kurds demonstrate against the violence in northern Iraq in Arnhem, The Netherlands, in August [EPA]
Meanwhile, various opponents of IS plan to demonstrate against the organisation again. Kawan Rauf, who fled to the Netherlands in the 1990s from Iraqi Kurdistan, told Al Jazeera he has organised a demonstration on September 7 in Amsterdam.
The goal, among other things, is to request that the government urge the United Nations to protect oppressed people in Syria and Iraq. He said he doesn't understand IS sympathisers in the Netherlands. "How can you support a murder machine?"
Rauf knows 25 of the 500 Dutch Kurds who are fighting against the IS in the Middle East. "I've tried to stop them but I don't know how I would react if my mother or my sister were abducted and raped," he said, noting his family returned to Iraqi Kurdistan because things had been good there in recent years.
Rauf said he hopes many different groups will come to the demonstration, including Sunni Muslims.
The Dutch-Syrian activist Andre Abdallah will be there, he told Al Jazeera. Members of his family are Christians, living in the northern Syrian city of Al-Hasaka. "The people there have nowhere to flee. The border between Turkey and Iraq is closed and the IS is now only 20km away," he said, expressing concern for all groups threatened by IS, not only Christians.
The right-wing organisation Pro Patria said it plans to demonstrate against IS in The Hague again on September 20. The leader of the anti-Islam Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, and the arch-conservative organisation Nederlandse Volks-Unie said it would join in.
The Muslim Defence League Holland and the local Islamic Partij van de Eenheid (Unity Party) plan to demonstrate on the same day against "the increasing discrimination against Muslims".
Pro Patria said it wants its demonstration to take place again in Schilderswijk. However, Mayor van Aartsen has stipulated that no more demonstrations can take place in residential neighbourhoods for two months, only in designated locations.
The ban came as a relief for many residents and business owners in the neighbourhood who, according to van Aartsen, also "longed for" the recent arrests of the "ideological pyromaniacs", referring to the radicalised youth.