Dutch funded ‘jihadist’ group in Syria, terror trial may now falter

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The Dutch government has been supporting an armed group in Syria which has been branded a terrorist organisation by the public prosecution department, current affairs show Nieuwsuur reported on Monday night.

The Netherlands provided uniforms and pick-up trucks to the group known as Jabbat al-Shamiya in 2017, the programme said. Next week, a Dutch jihadi faces court for being a member of the same group.

The equipment was sent to the group as part of a secret programme providing ‘non-lethal’ assistance to 22 rebel groups in Syria from 2015 to the beginning of this year.

According to the public prosecutor Jabbat al-Shamiya is ‘salafist and jihadistic’, ‘strives for the setting up of the caliphate’ and can be qualified as nothing else but a ‘criminal organisation of terrorist intent’.




The fact that the government has supported the organisation in the past could upset the court case, according to legal experts. ‘A court could easily say that it would not convict someone for doing something which had been facilitated by the state,’ Geert-Jan Knops told broadcaster NOS.

Michiel Pestman, who represents the man facing trial in three weeks, told NOS the Nieuwsuur claims undermine the public prosecution’s case.

Stop

The Netherlands has admitted funding Syrian rebel groups but has always maintained they were moderate.

However, this weekend foreign minister Stef Blok and trade minister Sigrid Kaag sent a briefing to MPs explaining that the Netherlands has stopped funding the Syrian opposition in the civil war against president Assad.

The chance that rebel forces will be able to win the civil war is, the ministers say, now ‘extremely limited’. Dutch support for the rebels has ‘not had the desired effects’, the ministers said. The Netherlands had set aside €70m to fund the opposition.

Nieuwsuur says the letter was sent to MPs after it had confronted them with its findings. ‘These findings strengthen our conviction that the decision to stop the funding was the correct one,’ the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Debate

MPs said they were shocked by the Nieuwsuur broadcast and have called on ministers to explain how this could happen.

Much of the information has been declared secret but MPs still want ministers to explain to parliament what has been done. ‘What appears to have happened is exactly what we were afraid of,’ said ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Seegers.

In 2015, the CU attempted to have the financial support to Syrian rebel groups stopped but failed to get sufficient support.

Nieuwsuur later published more allegations, claiming that other groups funded by the Netherlands committed human rights violations and war crimes. The broadcaster said it bases its claims on interviews with some 100 ‘rebel leaders’ and people involved with the programme.


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