AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – A court convicted nine Muslims on Friday of belonging to a terrorist group that incited hatred against non-Muslims and threatened to commit acts of terrorism.
Among the defendants was Mohammed Bouyeri, the convicted killer of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Bouyeri, who already has been sentenced to life in prison for the Nov. 2, 2004, murder of Van Gogh, was found to be a leader of the group, but the judges said he could not be punished further.
The group's goal was "stirring up, and or inciting hatred, and or threatening" non-Muslims, the judges said.
The heaviest sentences were handed to Ismael Aknikh and Muslim convert Jason Walters, the son of an American soldier and a Dutch mother. The two were found guilty of attempted murder for throwing a hand grenade that wounded five police officers in a daylong standoff with police in The Hague the week following Van Gogh's murder.
Walters received 15 years in prison and Aknikh received 13.
The other members were given sentences ranging from one to five years.
Prosecutors alleged the men attended cult-like meetings at Bouyeri's home under the guidance of a spiritual leader, Redouan al-Issar, who fled the country shortly before Van Gogh's murder and is now believed to be in jail in Syria.
Most were arrested in sweeps shortly after Van Gogh's murder.
"Who sows hate lays the basis for crimes that can cause grave fear," Judge Rene Elkebout said, reading the ruling by a three-judge panel. Such crimes "strike at the heart of the democratic order," he said.
The judges said the group spread terrorist hate speech in Internet chat rooms and invited others to join their prayer groups and adopt their ideology.
As an example of hate speech, they cited an "open letter" that Bouyeri left pinned on Van Gogh's corpse with a knife, threatening to murder Dutch politicians who oppose fundamentalist Islam.
"I know definitely that you, O America, will go down. I know definitely that you, Europe, will go down. I know definitely that you, the Netherlands, will go down," the letter said.
The sentences marked the first time in the Netherlands that Islamic fundamentalists were convicted of promoting a violent ideology rather than carrying out specific violent actions.
The trial had been seen as a test for new Dutch laws making it easier to prosecute extremists, and increasing penalties for terrorism-related crimes.
Evidence included wiretaps gathered by the Dutch secret service that were admitted into evidence under the new laws. It also included Internet chat room messages, weapons and blueprints seized in raids, Al Qaeda propaganda and farewell testaments written by some group members, apparently in preparation for suicide attacks.
The case also was seen as evidence of the threat Europe faces from homegrown radicals, since most of the defendants were born in the Netherlands.
The judgment was read in a special high-security courtroom, and the judges took the unusual step of barring a TV camera, apparently for fear of reprisals.
Prosecutors had sought 20-year sentences for Walters and Aknikh. Nouriddin el Fahtni, who was arrested in June 2005, was sentenced to five years, although prosecutors had asked for 10. El Fahtni was caught with a loaded machine gun after a chase.