Established By: Unknown
Also Known As: The Hofstad
Country Of Origin: Netherlands
Key Members: Unknown
Operational Area: Netherlands
Number Of Members: Unknown
Involved In: Armed attacks, Threatings
- Rachid Belkacem Rachid Belkacem was a Dutch national, and a suspected member… [+]
- Nouredine el Fahtni Nouredine el Fahtni (also known as Noreddine el Fahtni) is… [+]
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- Names of terror suspects linked to the Madrid bombings leaked online by Europol officer The European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, recently suffered a… [+]
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The Hofstad Network was an Islamist terror group composed mostly of Dutch citizens. The terror group is composed mainly of young men between the ages of 18 and 32. The name “Hofstad” was originally the codename the Dutch secret service AIVD used for the network and leaked to the media. The name likely refers to the nickname of the city of The Hague, where some of the suspected terrorists lived. The network was active throughout the 2000s.
While the demographic of the group is made up of Dutch men, there are three instances in which the demographic of the group is made up. The first being Dutch Christians who converted to Islam. The second would be Muslim immigrants living in the Netherlands. And the final group would be the largest demographic, that is second and third generation immigrants to Netherlands. In this particular instance, it was shown that the majority of these immigrants came from Morocco.
The network was said to have links to networks in Spain and Belgium. Among their contacts was Abdeladim Akoudad, also known as Naoufel, one of the suspects of the 2003 Casablanca bombings. The group was influenced by the ideology of Takfir wal-Hijra, a militant offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Redouan al-Issar, also known as “The Syrian”, was the suspected spiritual leader of the group.
Most media attention was attracted by Mohammed Bouyeri, sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering Dutch film director Theo van Gogh in 2004 and by Samir Azzouz, suspected of planning terrorist attacks on the Dutch parliament and several strategic targets such as the national airport and a nuclear reactor. The group was also suspected of planning to kill several members of government and parliament.
The earliest reference to the Hofstad group occurred in 2002, when they were discovered by the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). The intelligence gathered in the first years after the group was discovered was limited, revealing that the group had only been meeting together.
These were informal living-room meetings held by a Syrian asylum seeker posing as a religious. It was during these living room meetings where radicalization took place. By the end of 2002, the AIVD began to suspect that the organization was developing extremist views and discussing mass casualty events.
On 14 October 2003, Samir Azzouz, Ismail Akhnikh, Jason Walters and Redouan al-Issar were put under arrest for planning a (according to the AIVD) “terrorist attack in the Netherlands“, but were released soon after. Azzouz was eventually tried in this case, but acquitted for lack of evidence in 2005: he did possess what he thought to be a home-made bomb, but having used the wrong type of fertilizer the device would never have exploded.
At the beginning of 2003, a Hofstad member and his friend tried to join an Islamic rebel group in Chechnya but were discovered by authorities and arrested. During the summer, two Hofstad group members traveled to Pakistan where they recieived paramilitary training. In September, the two men returned and discovered by authorities that these same men could be traced to having talked to a man having ties to the Casablanca bombings earlier that year.
On October 14th of that year, the Spanish authorities arrested a Moroccan man who was suspected to be involved in suspicious activity. Police in the Netherlands arrested five Hofstad associates, including three who traveled abroad and were in contact with extremist in Morocco and Syria.
2003 would also be the turning point in which the man who murdered a Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, would become radicalized. He withdrew from “mainstream” Dutch society, this included quitting his job and distancing himself from all friends and family who were non-religious. It was also during this time, that the man would embrace the Muslim culture and would become known as the “Taliban” by many in his neighborhood. He is also rumored to have traveled to Denmark to meet with a Syrian preacher who was commonly in touch with the Hofstad group.
In the next year, the group was noted to be under heavy surveillance by the AIVD, which dampened the groups activities. However, it didn’t stop Mohammed Bouyeri, the killer of Van Gogh from continuing to become more radicalized. He moved from being radicalized with ideas to adopting extremist and violent ideas.
On May 18th, authorities received a tip that a grocery store worker had been involved in preparing for a terror attack. A couple weeks later the Dutch secret service had arrested this man after capturing him on security cameras taking measurements of the Dutch secret service headquarters. Upon his arrest, police found maps as well as weapons that could be used to carry out the terror attacks.
On August 29 of that year, Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali created a short film, Submission, that contained scenes of Quranic verses being painted onto semi-naked women. This would be the catalyst to the group’s radicalization and Mohammed Bouyeri’s justification to kill Van Gogh for the blasphemy of Islam.
Van Gogh’s murder would be considered the first terrorist attack claimed by the Hoftstad group. In September, authorities received a tip from an email that warned of two Hofstad group members preparing a terror attack. The anonymous source also admitted to being recruited by these men to carry out the planned terrorist attacks with particular targets.
November 2nd of that year, the famous Dutch filmmaker was killed on his way to work in Amsterdam. The killer cycled alongside Van Gogh before shooting him several times and ending the brutal attack with an attempt to decapitate the man. Before fleeing the scene he left a note pinned to the man’s chest that had a death threat for Hirsi Ali.
After the attack Mohammed Bouyeri went to a park near by were he had a shoot out with police before being taken into custody.
It has been said by witnesses that Mohammed Bouyeri had been stalking his route for some time before the attack had happened. With saying that, evidence shows that this particular attack was planned solely by the attacker. The evidence doesn’t suggest the amount of involvement from the other members of the group.
After the attack, the police then spent the greater 10 days after arresting the group members. One group member who acted as the religious teacher for the group fled the country the day of Van Gogh’s murder and entered Syria illegally.
Shortly after the murder of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri in November 2004, the organization gained attention from national media when an attempt to arrest suspected members Jason Walters and Ismail Akhnikh led to a 14-hour siege of a house in The Hague.
During these events, the name Hofstad Network became public and the media has continued to use this moniker to refer to the organization. In the months after the siege, a number of other suspected members of the organization were arrested. On 5 December 2005, the Hofstad court case against 14 suspected members started.
On 10 March, the court convicted nine of the 14 suspects of being a member of a criminal terrorist organisation. The other five suspected members were acquitted of this charge.
In the meantime, Samir Azzouz, Jermaine Walters—suspected but not incarcerated—and another 5 members were arrested on suspicion of preparing an attack against (yet unnamed) national politicians and the building of the General Intelligence and Security Agency AIVD on 14 October 2005. In this separate case Nouredine el Fahtni is also a suspect. On 1 December 2005, Samir Azzouz was sentenced to nine years in prison.
The first trial was executed under a Dutch judge of the District Court in Rotterdam in March. During the trial, the judge admitted that he felt as if it was obvious that arrest leading to the hearing had created a spectacle and that the group members ideologies were being greatly scrutinized.
The lawyers who defended that group labeled the trial as a “witch trial”. It was clear that the ideological threat the Hofstad group had posed stirred the emotions of the public. The judge ruled that in the case of the Hofstad group there was a clear distinction between peaceful and harmful extremism. The judge ruled that four of the members to be acquitted because they showed no attempt for violence but only held extremist ideas. The judge also ruled that the group was not a terror organization.
Jason Walters – 15 years incarceration, released May 2013
Ismail Akhnikh – 13 years incarceration
Nouredine el Fahtni – 5 years incarceration
Yousef Ettoumi – 1 year
Zine Labidine Aourghe – 18 months
Mohammed Fahmi Boughabe – 18 months
Mohamed el Morabit – 2 years
Ahmed Hamdi – 2 years
Mohammed Bouyeri was already serving a life sentence at the time and could not be further punished. Jermaine Walters was exonerated from making a threat against former Dutch Parliamentarian Hirsi Ali.
Jermaine Walters, Nadir Adarraf, Rachid Belkacem, Mohamed El Bousklaoui and Zakaria Taybi were freed.
On December 17, 2010 the appeals court of The Hague overthrew the verdict, and acquitted many of the suspects, stating that they found no evidence for the existence of the Hofstad Network:
Upon the ruling the court determined that the Hofstad group was a terror criminal organization who had the intent of committing crimes out of violence and hatred. Documents and public letters that had been written by group members were provided as evidence throughout the trial.
Jason Walters – 15 years’ incarceration, released May 2013
Ismail Akhnikh [nl] – 15 months’ incarceration
Nouredine el Fahtni – acquitted
Yousef Ettoumi – acquitted
Zine Labidine Aourghe – 18 months
Mohammed Fahmi Boughabe – acquitted
Mohamed el Morabit – acquitted
Ahmed Hamdi – acquitted
Born 1978; suspected leader of the group; convicted to a life sentence without parole for the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.
-Redouan al-Issar, a.k.a. “The Syrian”, a.k.a. sheik Abu Khaled
Born sometime between 1955 and 1965; suspected spiritual leader of the group; currently wanted by Dutch authorities for his role in the network; possibly incarcerated in Syria.
Born 1986; tried and acquitted of planning terrorist attacks in 2004; currently also a suspect in a second case of terrorist activity, together with Nouredine el Fahtni. Sentenced to 9 years’ imprisonment.
-Jason Walters, a.k.a. Abu Mujahied Amriki
Born 1985; threw a hand grenade when police attempted to arrest him and Ismail Akhnikh, causing a 14-hour siege of their house in The Hague in November 2004; brother of Jermaine. Sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. The appeals court upheld the verdict.
-Ismaël Akhnikh, a.k.a. Suhaib
Born 1983; arrested after a 14-hour police siege in The Hague. Sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.
-Mohammed Fahmi Boughabe, a.k.a. Abu Mussab
-Nouredine el Fahtni,
Carried a loaded machine gun at the time of his arrest, possibly on his way to kill politicians Geert Wilders and/or Ayaan Hirsi Ali; arrested in the summer of 2004 on suspicion of plotting an attack on Portugal’s then-Prime Minister Barroso; currently also a suspect in a second case of terrorist activity, together with Samir Azzouz. Sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment, acquitted by the appeals court.
Born 1986; brother of Jason, acquitted.
-Yousef Ettoumi, nicknamed “Semi” and “Bommetje” (little bomb). Sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, acquitted by the appeals court.
-Ahmed Hamdi, sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment, acquitted by the appeals court.
-Zine Labidine Aourghe, sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, the appeals court upheld the verdict.
-Mohamed el Morabit, sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment, acquitted by the appeals court.
-Nadir Adarraf, acquitted
-Zakaria Taybi, acquitted
-Mohamed el Bousklaoui, acquitted
-Racid Belkacem, acquitted
-Mohamed Boughaba, sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, acquitted by the appeals court.
On 18 May 2006, a group of four young men delivered flowers to the Dutch public broadcaster VARA. The flowers included a note, “greetings, the Hofstadgroup,” which was a ‘thank you’ for the VARA Zembla documentary broadcast the week prior, on the topic of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s asylum background. Jermaine Walters was said to be one of the men.