AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Judges on Tuesday handed down a rare maximum life sentence with no possibility of parole to the Dutch-born Muslim who confessed to — and expressed no regret for — shooting, stabbing and nearly decapitating filmmaker Theo van Gogh (search).
The murder stunned the country, heightened ethnic tensions and raised concerns about homegrown Islamic terrorism here and elsewhere in Europe.
Mohammed Bouyeri (search), 27, had mounted no defense at his two-day trial for the Nov. 2 slaying of Van Gogh, whom he accused of insulting Islam, and told the court he would do it again if given the chance.
"The defendant rejects the democratic system in its entirety," said presiding Judge Udo Willem Bentinck, citing Bouyeri's lack of remorse and his boast that he would kill again if set free.
"Society must receive the maximum protection from this defendant. That is why only one punishment is fitting, a lifelong prison sentence," Bentinck said.
Bouyeri seemed unfazed by Tuesday's sentence, looking relaxed as he shook his lawyer's hand and strolled out of the courtroom with his guards. He has two weeks to lodge an appeal but has said he hoped to receive the maximum punishment, preferably death, in his quest for martyrdom.
Wearing a black-and-white checkered headscarf, he remained seated when the judges filed into the high-security courtroom Tuesday in a show of disdain for the non-Islamic proceedings.
Besides the Van Gogh murder, Bouyeri was convicted of the attempted murder of two bystanders and eight police officers during a subsequent shootout, illegal possession of firearms and impeding the work of a parliament member, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (search), whom he threatened to kill in a letter impaled in Van Gogh's chest.
Born and raised in Amsterdam by Moroccan parents, Bouyeri became increasingly radicalized in the last two years and repeatedly had run-ins with police.
He was associated with other young Muslims the intelligence services accuse of plotting terrorist actions, the Hofstad Network (search), but the court acquitted him of charges of operating as part of a terrorist cell.
Though dozens of others have been acquitted of terrorism or released, their trials have cast light on a growing underclass of Dutch-born Muslims who sympathize with Islamic militants.
The verdict was the first to apply Dutch terrorism laws enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. The timing underscored similar concerns in Britain following the bombing of the London transport system allegedly by British-born Muslims.
The judgment said Bouyeri had shown "a complete disregard for human life." Van Gogh was "butchered mercilessly," it said, and it was "a miracle that only two bystanders were hit by stray bullets."
Bouyeri ambushed the filmmaker on an Amsterdam street, shot him repeatedly, stabbed him and slit his throat before thrusting his manifesto into his chest on the point of a knife.
Some witnesses said he was so calm "it looked like he was out walking his dog," the judge said, describing the murder and the subsequent shootout with police.
In his earlier court appearance, Bouyeri said he had acted in the name of Islam and felt no pain for Van Gogh's family.
"What moved me to do what I did was purely my faith," he told the court. "I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his prophet."
"You can't get away with this," the judge quoted a witness as telling Bouyeri after the attack. Bouyeri responded: "Yes I can, and now you know what the future will bring."
The killing led to dozens of arson attacks against Islamic schools and mosques and has strained relations with the country's 1 million Muslim immigrants.
Only a few dozen life sentences have been given by Dutch courts since World War II, generally in multiple murder cases. In handing it to Bouyeri, the court cited his radical motivation and assertion that he would do it again.
The judges cited testimony from expert witnesses who said Bouyeri's faith is a violent form of Islam based on 14th-century scriptures.
"You can say that Mohammed Bouyeri felt the murder was a religious obligation," the judgment said. It was act of terrorism, the court said, "intended to instill fear in the Dutch population."
Geert Wilders (search), a populist politician who campaigns for tighter limits on immigration, wrote in an open letter to the killer published Tuesday in the Algemeen Dagblad daily that Bouyeri felt "blind hatred for anyone or anything that is different than your Islamist-fascist views."
Hoping Bouyeri gets the maximum penalty, Wilders said "society must be protected from people like you. The same counts for the Islam that you represent."
Van Gogh, a distant relative of the 19th-century painter Vincent van Gogh (search), was a social critic and columnist who attacked the treatment of women in fundamentalist Islamic households in a short film, "Submission," which offended many Muslims.
The film's scriptwriter was Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of parliament who went into hiding after Van Gogh's murder because she was named in the note left on the corpse.