Defending Islamic militants is no easy task. Dutch defense attorney Peter Plasman learned that lesson firsthand when he represented Mohammed Bouyeri. Refusing to recognize the authority of the Dutch court, Bouyeri, who was convicted to a life term this summer for the gruesome 2004 killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, declined to mount a defense. Plasman, a well-respected lawyer, was left in the lurch.
To be sure, Bouyeri did not always show such contempt for the Dutch legal process. Initially, Bouyeri had preferred a lawyer from the Amsterdam law firm Boehler, Franken, Koppe and Wijngaarden. And with good reason: This law firm is known for defending terrorist suspects, usually, but not exclusively, with a Muslim background.
For example, one member of the firm, defense attorney Victor Koppe, has served as counsel to Samir Azzouz, a prominent member of the Hofstadgroup, a radical network of young admirers of al-Qaeda, 14 of whom are currently on trial in the Netherlands. Azzouz was jailed in June 2004 after suspicions that he was involved in the robbery of the Edah supermarket in Rotterdam. Azzouz contracted Koppe’s services after heeding the advice of a Moroccan Mohammed Cheppih, who recommended that Azzouz ask Koppe to become his attorney. (Cheppih, it bears noting, received his theological training in Saudi Arabia under the guidance of Saudi professor Abu Bakr El Jezeiri. The professor is the author of the book The Path of the Muslim, wherein he calls for the public execution of gay men by heaving them from the highest roof in the city. In addition, El Jezeiri has told his followers that “[a]dulterous women must be stoned to death.”)
Another of Koppe’s clients is Ahmed Hamdi. A young Dutch Moroccan who lived in the same small, two-room house as Mohammed Bouyeri, Hamdi was very close both to him and to other members of the Hofstadgroup. The house was reportedly a gathering ground for Dutch Islamists. Some ten to twenty young radicals would meet there to listen to the inflammatory speeches of a Syrian man known as Abu Khaled, and watch films on the decapitations in Iraq and Chechnya. Notwithstanding such incriminating ties, during the trial in Amsterdam, Hamdi presented himself as a clueless bystander, wholly innocent of the militant activities of his housemates. Instead, he claimed that, as a computer expert, he merely helped his friends when they turned to him for advice. Naturally, he claimed, he had no idea that they were using him to disseminate radical Islamist texts.
That the presiding judged believed not a word of Hamdi’s testimony did not stop Koppe from attempting a spirited defense. Then, when the judge refused to grant Koppe’s request that Hamdi be released from protective custody, Koppe was outraged. The next day the newspaper NRC Handelsblad published an interview with Koppe and another attorney, Britta Boehler, in which they claimed that the trial of Islamist terrorist suspects was really a form of religious persecution. “For what is going on at this trial there is only one explanation,” Koppe said. “They are on trial because they are Muslims. “This a variation of the classical witch hunt.” Boehler made an equally ridiculous claim: “This is a religious trial,” she said. “These people are on trial because of their religious views.”
No one would confuse Boehler for an Islamist, but her abundant sympathy for their cause is not inexplicable. Born and educated in Germany, in 1995 she joined the joined a leftist law firm in Amsterdam led by attorney Ties Prakken, a student of Pieter Bakker Schut. Bakker Schut was a famous Dutch lawyer who openly sympathized with the notorious German Baader-Meinhof group, also known as the Red Army Faction (RAF), a small Marxist terrorist network responsible for the death of some 60 people. Though she denies it, rumors persist that Boehler, too, sympathized with the RAF.
There is no doubt, however, about her strong feelings for the extreme Left. The objects of her affection include Abdullah Öcalan, the ruthless leader of the Turkish terrorist group, the Kurdistan Workers Party, who is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in Turkey as well as Europe. In 1999, just before he was captured by the Turkish intelligence, Boehler and her law firm tried to arrange Öcalan’s flight to Holland where he was to apply for political asylum. The Dutch government prevented this by refusing Öcalan’s plane permission to land. Despite his long terrorist rap sheet, Boehler and her associates claimed Öcalan’s human rights had been violated.
Today, Boehler has found a new cause célèbre. She now works as the defense attorney for Zacaria Taybi, a friend of Mohammed Bouyeri, Jason Walters and Ismail Akhnikh – three hard-core members of the Hofstadgroup. In the summer of 2003, both Walters and Akhnikh traveled to Pakistan to receive training in a terrorist training camp; they claimed it was just a madrassa (Islamic school) but prosecutor Koos Plooy pointed out that these training camps are often dressed up as madrassas.
At the end of 2003, Taybi joined Walters on another trip to Pakistan. Taybi also paid frequent visits to Jason Walters’ apartment in the Antheunisstraat in the Hague. On November 10, 2004, a special anti-terrorist unit took siege of the apartment after the police had first tried to arrest both Walters and Akhnikh. Walters threw a grenade at the police thereby seriously wounding five policemen (Walters later lamely claimed he had “a blackout” when he threw the grenade; in fact he and Akhnikh called on the police to shoot them dead so that they would die as martyrs, and shouted that they had 44 kilos of explosives and would blow up the whole street). It later turned out that they had three grenades: Yugoslav M91 grenades implanted with tiny bullets. Although Taybi was not in the apartment when it was under siege by Dutch Special Forces, he was one of Walters’ best friends.
In their December 2004 ruling that Taybi’s protective custody must be prolonged, Dutch judges took this history into account. But Boehler, who appears to have made an emotional investment in Taybi’s case, was incensed. In a television interview, she descried the legal proceedings against Taybi as “an Inquisition trial.” Nor is the most egregious instance of the unprofessional conduct of the Islamists’ lawyers. In their NRC Handelsblad interview, Boehler and Koppe also claimed the court judges had never attempted find out who led the Hofstadgroup and that they had never asked questions plans for a terrorist attack this group may have had.
Both claims are demonstrably false. There were indeed questions about Abu Khaled, the so-called leader of the Hofstadgroup, and the judges also posed questions about Islamist operative Nouredine el Fatmi’s plans when he was arrested in Amsterdam with a loaded machine gun in his bag. “What were you up to, where did you get your weapon from, Mr. Fatmi?” he was asked. El Fatmi alternated between refusing to answer these questions or and offering distortions in place of answers.
Most defense attorneys, it seems safe to say, would never publicly attack a judge during a court trial, especially not in the media. Fanatics like Boehler and Koppe do not hesitate to do so, and their boldness is easily explained: A large swath of the Dutch media is openly on their side. As such, the media is often only too willing to provide them with a platform for wild accusations. Thus in October 2005, NRC Handelsblad and the Dutch TV station KRO launched conspiracy theories about the Dutch Security and Intelligence Service (AIVD). They suggested that Hofstadgroup member Jason Walters had received his hand grenades from Saleh Bouali, a man they portrayed as an “AIVD infomer.” Feeding the conspiracy theory, Walters’ attorney Robert Maanicus told the KRO TV station that he had reason to believe that this was probably the case. In the court room, Victor Koppe later repeatedly suggested that the hidden hand of the AIVD was behind the trial. The matter needed to be investigated urgently, he declared.
It was left to Saleh Bouali himself to expose this propaganda mill for what it was. In December 2005, he appeared as a witness in court. All the allegations made about him in the media were false, he testified. Sensational media stories quite apart, he had never been an AIVD informer, nor had he given hand grenades to Jason Walters. Walters made a desperate attempt to counter. Arising, he looked angrily at Bouali and charged, “You did give me those grenades.” Bouali denied it once more. And in fact it was Walters, not Bouali who was lying. In January 2006, Prosecutor Plooy quoted from a statement made by Walters at the end of 2004. While being questioned by an examining judge, Walters confessed, “Those hand grenades belonged to me. I bought them for a good price.” Plooy drew the obvious conclusion: “Any suggestions that the AIVD was directly or indirectly involved in supplying hand grenades to Jason Walters is based on fables.”
Concerted efforts to turn the Hofstadgroup into martyrs of the Dutch legal system have not gone unnoticed by the judges. A judged involved in the trial has asked Koppe whether he was behind the sensational stories in the media. Koppe, visibly uncomfortable with the question, did not confirm it. But neither did he flatly deny it.
Lawyers like Boehler and Koppe have played a generally destructive role in the current trial in Amsterdam. But their tactics may not be succeeding. Recently, the judge in the Hofstadgroup trial decided to release two individuals suspected of involvement with the group. They had already been in prison for more than a year and the time of their preventive custody would otherwise exceed the prison sentence they would receive in the event of a conviction. Boehler and Koppe noticed--much to their dismay--that their clients were not among the released. One can be sure that these courtroom saboteurs, having embraced the Islamists’ cause with gusto, will not let matters rest there.