Through shoplifting and burglary to terrorism

The news in it short:

  • Nearly two-thirds of Dutch terrorist suspects have previously been suspected of another offense such as a threat or shoplifting. This is shown by research by the Dutch Study Center Crime and Law Enforcement that this will be released on Friday.
  • The researchers looked at a database of the Public Prosecution Service (OM) containing almost all terrorism suspects of the past fourteen years: 353 persons. The data of 279 suspects were linked to anonymized information from the Central Bureau of Statistics.
  • It is the first time in the Netherlands that the background of terrorism suspects has been mapped on this scale. Almost two-thirds of them completed a form of primary education. More than half of them do not work and often receive a benefit.

At racing club Fun4Two in Moordrecht was burgled last year. The thieves took hundreds of thousands of euros. The perpetrators did not have to be searched for long. Intelligence service AIVD was keeping an eye on jihad fighter Vially M. when he committed the burglary with three henchmen. After his return from Syria, Vially started to focus on his old occupation: crime.

Jihadists are more likely to come from the criminal environment, new research shows of the Dutch Study Center Crime and Law Enforcement. It was commissioned by Police and Science, an independent research program at the police. The researchers looked at the background of 279 Dutch people, especially men, who were suspected of a terrorist crime in the past fourteen years. Nearly two-thirds of them have already appeared in police systems: as suspects of another offense.

The researchers deliberately chose to look at suspects, and not to convicts – who, of course, were also suspects. The group of convicts alone is too small for this type of investigation and data about suspects are easier to collect.

More attention has been drawn to the overlap between criminal and jihadist networks. Certainly when it turned out that the Belgian brothers El Bakraoui, who blew themselves up at Brussels airport in 2016, came out of the gangway environment. They committed several robberies, came to prison and were recruited there. Also Dutch best-known terrorist, Hofstadgroup member Samir A. who planned attacks on politicians, committed a robbery earlier. The new study shows that they are no exceptions when it comes to a criminal past.

Read also about the book that two scientists wrote about Dutch Syria fighters: From ordinary Rotterdam boy to jihad fighter

On the basis of anonymous data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the researchers also mapped out the training and the work history of the terrorist suspects. Nearly two-thirds have only completed primary education, 4 percent have only a form of higher education. Slightly more than half is unemployed, a large proportion of them receive a benefit. The profile of the terrorist suspect is similar to that of a 'normal' criminal, say the researchers. Both are on average as low educated, and usually have no basic qualification for the labor market.

Remorseful and susceptible

The researchers do not give a clear explanation for the link between crime and terrorism. However, they suspect that repentant ex-criminals are more susceptible to jihadism.

"It is a vulnerable group of young people with a low economic status," says criminologist Elanie Rodermond. "They are looking for a group to belong to. The jihad can be a way out for them. By joining in, you make your criminal past good again, is the idea. "

The researchers point out that combat groups such as the Islamic State actively focus on 'regret optics' from the criminal environment. Sometimes people with the worst pasts create the best futures was the slogan with which IS recruited young Muslims when in 2014 he founded a so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq. The now expelled terror movement has already been compared to a 'super-gang': attractive for young criminals who can continue their violent lifestyle, only then with the promise to come to heaven.

The suspected terrorist suspects usually no longer appear in the systems of the Public Prosecution Service in the year prior to the suspicion. "That seems to indicate that they are withdrawing from crime and joining the world of terrorism. It is silence before the storm, "says Rodermond.

The findings do not indicate that terrorist suspects are trying to pay for their fight with criminal extra income, say the researchers. With the offenses of which they were suspected, such as violence, shoplifting and disruption of public order, little money can be made. It is actually sporadically about financially attractive crime as a drug trade.

Read also: The Dutch arms route for terrorists from Paris

Often lost job

The police can use the new study to assess the threat emanating from individuals, the researchers say. One of the findings is that jihadists lose their jobs relatively often before they are suspected of terrorism: this can be a so-called 'trigger' in the radicalization process.

Researcher Fabienne Thijs: "Investigation agencies have a list of suspects in their sights. If one of them suddenly becomes unemployed, you need to be extra vigilant. "

Striking: where literature shows that criminals usually take things a bit easier when they get a partner or a child, this had no inhibiting effect on terrorist suspects. Elanie Rodermond: "The desire to commit a terrorist crime is greater."

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