The right-wing liberal party VVD and farmers’ party BBB have cut their ties with a convicted terrorist who became an academic and adviser on deradicalisation.
The VVD cancelled the membership of Soumaya Sahla after allegations surfaced that she had “pilfered” some €100,000 from party grandee Frits Bolkestein while he was acting as her mentor. Sahla has denied the claims.
Bolkestein’s nephew, Martin Bolkestein, said his uncle had paid for her to take a postgraduate degree in political science as well as paying the rent on her apartment and covering living costs. The former European commissioner was 88 years old at the time and seriously ill.
Martin Bolkestein told political magazine HP/De Tijd that in addition to €85,000 in bank transactions, around €20,000 of cash withdrawals by his uncle remained unaccounted for.
Sahla, 40, said Frits Bolkestein had agreed to fund her studies as part of her rehabilitation into society after she served a three-year sentence for terrorism offences from 2005 to 2008. “Frits said very clearly: I’m paying for it,” she said.
The VVD said it had cancelled her membership after investigating the claims by Martin Bolkestein. “We have contacted the family and established that the reports are accurate,” the party said in a statement.
But Andreas Kinneging, professor of legal philosophy at Leiden University, who supervised Sahla’s doctorate in political science, backed her version of events. “It was entirely clear that he was paying for her and he did so willingly, because he wanted to support her,” Kinneging said.
Sahla was the focus of controversy three years ago when her role as an adviser to the VVD came to light. She stepped down from her advisory role with the party in January last year after Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-Islam PVV, attacked the VVD for giving a “terrorist” access to MPs.
She was a member of the Hofstadgroep, a radical Islamist group that planned attacks on Dutch politicians, including Wilders, and the headquarters of the intelligence agency AIVD in the mid-2000s.
Sahla was arrested at Lelylaan station in Amsterdam in 2005 when she was stopped in a car that was carrying weapons, including a loaded automatic pistol. The district court in Rotterdam sentenced her to three years in jail for membership of a terrorist organisation, although in a later judgment the appeal court ruled that the Hofstadgroep could not be classed as one.
HP/De Tijd also uncovered that Sahla had formed a close working relationship with Roy de Ruiter, a former major in the air force who advises the BBB on military matters.
BBB “freezes” contact
She reportedly joined a closed WhatsApp group that included De Ruiter and Gijs Tuinman, a former lieutenant colonel who is the number three candidate for the farmers’ party for the general election.
The BBB said it had “frozen” the contact between De Ruiter and Sahla and asked the national counter-terrorism adviser NCTV to conduct a risk assessment.
HP/De Tijd said Sahla approached a psychiatrist about taking up the post of health minister if the BBB formed part of the next government.
De Ruiter said he had instructed Sahla to speak to Esther van Fenema, but did so in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the BBB.
The party said it was “shocked” by the revelations and would be investigating the relationship between Sahla and De Ruiter.
“We emphasise that the BBB never gave Soumaya Sahla the task of soliciting people for a post in a potential cabinet. Caroline [van der Plas, party leader] has never had any contact with her.”
De Ruiter himself told HP/De Tijd he stood by Sahla and disputed the Bolkestein family’s account of her dealings with Frits Bolkestein. “As far as I’m concerned the facts are more important than the image that has been created,” he said.
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