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Viewing cable 05THEHAGUE3008, NETHERLANDS/EXTREMISM: MOHAMMAD B'S NEIGHBORHOOD

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05THEHAGUE3008 2005-11-04 10:10 2011-01-20 21:09 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy The Hague
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 THE HAGUE 003008

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM PINR PTER SOCI SCUL KISL NL KPAO
SUBJECT: NETHERLANDS/EXTREMISM: MOHAMMAD B'S NEIGHBORHOOD

THIS CABLE IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE HANDLE
ACCORDINGLY.

1.(SBU) SUMMARY: Overtoomseveld is a Moroccan neighborhood
in Western Amsterdam, made notorious on November 2, 2004
when native son Mohammed Bouyeri murdered filmmaker Theo van
Gogh on an Amsterdam street in broad daylight. One year
later, it remains a largely segregated community, in many
ways more Arab than Dutch. Over the last year, Embassy and
Consulate officials visited this economically depressed
neighborhood several times and established contacts with
local Muslim and non-Muslim residents, at least one of whom
knew Bouyeri prior to the murder. Despite local police and
community outreach programs, Dutch authorities worry that
Muslim minority youth in segregated neighborhoods like
Overtoomseveld remain prime targets for recruitment by
Islamic extremist groups because of their alienation from
broader Dutch society and limited economic opportunities.
END SUMMARY.

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD
---------------------------

2.(SBU) Overtoomseveld in West Amsterdam is a neighborhood
of approximately 8,000 residents. It lies just outside
Amsterdam's ring motorway, but only a ten-minute bike-ride
from the down-town area. In contrast to the 18th and 19th
century buildings on the other side of the ring, housing in
Overtoomseveld consists primarily of concrete, prefabricated
apartment blocs built during the 1960's and 70's
to provide housing for low-income Dutch families.

3.(SBU) Until the 1980s the neighborhood was almost
exclusively white, working-class Dutch. According to
local contacts, however, about 80 percent of the residents
of Overtoomseveld today are non-indigenous Dutch
(allochtonen) of Moroccan or other Arab descent. As
Moroccan immigrants gradually moved in, many white families
with the economic means to do so moved to single-family
houses in other parts of the city or in the more distant
suburbs.

4.(SBU) The Muslim character of Overtoomseveld is
immediately apparent to the casual visitor. Women are more
visible on balconies (usually with small children) than on
the street, and nearly all wear headscarves. Arabic
language shop-window signs and graffiti -- much of it anti-
American -- are common.

THE DISH AND THE MINARET
------------------------

5.(SBU) Although fairly tidy by U.S. standards,
Overtoomseveld is considered run-down by the immaculate
Dutch. There is more litter and graffiti than in other
parts of the city, and properties, usually owned by absentee
landlords, show signs of neglect such as broken windows and
stoops. Within Amsterdam's Moroccan community, it is common
for large extended families to share small rental
apartments, creating additional strains on the poorly
constructed structures. The government subsidizes most of
the council housing in the neighborhood, and is a
significant source of income through the provision of
unemployment, rent support and social welfare benefits.

6.(SBU) The large number of satellite dishes, used to beam
in Arabic stations such as al Jazeera, have earned
Overtoomseveld the derogatory sobriquet of a dish city in
Dutch. Satellite television is cheaper than Dutch cable and
provides a direct link to the home cultures of many
immigrants, but many non-immigrant Dutch criticize the
prevalence of satellite broadcasting as insulating immigrant
communities from mainstream Dutch culture and encouraging
segregation.

7.(SBU) The neighborhood's one Moroccan mosque plays a
critical role in satisfying residents' spiritual and
cultural needs. When Emboff visited the mosque during the
middle of the afternoon, there were about 20 middle-aged men
inside. One English speaker graciously offered a tour
around the mosque. The mosque has a food store and
classrooms for the 100 children aged 6-12 attending Arabic
and Koran classes on weekends. Like elsewhere in the
Netherlands, the imam speaks little Dutch and was imported
from Morocco. On Fridays, the mosque has an overflow
capacity and worshippers spill into the streets for prayers.
The imam has a cordial relationship with local police --
there is a police station next door -- and has cooperated
with police requests to disperse worshippers quickly after
prayers to avoid congestion.

THE PROBLEM OF YOUTH
--------------------

8.(SBU) During non-school hours, groups of young men and
boys hang out on the neighborhood's streets and stoops with
little to do. As a result, incidents of petty crime and
vandalism are high. During a recent visit by Emboffs,
several groups of young boys were gathered outside two
neighborhood internet cafes. According to local contacts,
one of these cafes -- across from a police station -- had
earlier been used by members of the extremist Hofstad
group, including Bouyeri. Local police regularly drop in
on these cafes and report seeing Arabic websites being
accessed; few have the language skills, however, to
determine what sort of information is being shared.

9.(SBU) Neighborhood youth are also active graffiti artists;
when the Consul General and emboffs toured the neighborhood
in late September, graffiti on apartment buildings included
obscenities against President Bush, adoration for Saddam
Hussein and several HAMAS-related displays. According to
police contacts, local police are now trained to monitor
amounts and types of graffiti as signs of radicalism.

10.(SBU) In 1998, riots between Moroccan youth and Dutch
police in several cities soured already bad relations
between the two groups. In response, a number of community
initiatives were launched, such as the establishment of
police Youth Coordinators in various neighborhoods to
enhance dialogue between the police and Moroccan youth.
While the focus of these efforts originally was to reduce
petty crime, it has now shifted to combating radicalization.
The neighborhood watch group, Neighborhood Fathers, is
another organization established to reduce crime that has
now taken on a counter-extremism focus.

REACHING OUT TO RADICALS
------------------------

11.(SBU) According to Amsterdam West Youth Coordinator Tom
Smakman, Overtoomseveld is not the toughest neighborhood in
Amsterdam, but it is the most likely to produce radicals.
Smakman claimed this was because of the density of the
population and the level of poverty among its residents:
People know that there are a lot of frustrated youths in
this neighborhood. He stressed that police are less
worried about what takes place on the streets -- which they
can monitor -- than about what goes on behind closed doors.
According to Smakman, radical views are more widespread than
ever among local youth, many of whom consider Bouyeri a
hero. Many youth, however, will not express their feelings
openly in public or in the presence of their parents, who
largely reject such views. However, Smakeman added, We
don't know what happens when the drapes are shut.

12.(SBU) Smakman speaks from experience, having come into
contact with Mohammed Bouyeri and other Hofstad group
members through his efforts to reach out to community
groups. Bouyeri, for example, was temporarily on the
editorial staff of a Dutch/Turkish/Arabic neighborhood
newspaper co-sponsored by local police and a neighborhood
organization to promote employment among local youth.
According to Smakman, Bouyeri was known for his columns
encouraging youth to empower themselves to achieve success
in Dutch society. Smakman noted that Bouyeri's
transformation from integration proponent to extremist
murderer was surprisingly sudden, but there were signs --
such as when Bouyeri refused to shake the hand of his longtime
friend one day without explanation.

13.(SBU) Another Hofstad suspect now awaiting trial, Yusef
Etoumi, participated in 2000 in a three-week summer program
for high-risk Dutch-Moroccan youth to perform service
projects in Morocco. The program, entitled And Now
Something Positive, was another initiative launched to
improve inter-community relations following the 1998 riots
and is sponsored by several Dutch companies. Smakman, who
took part in the trip as a chaperone, remembered Etoumi as a
quiet kid, not a criminal boy who engaged in soft drug
use.

COMMENT
-------

14.(SBU) Overtoomseveld lived up to its radical reputation
two weeks ago when additional arrests of several alleged
Hofstad Group members were made there. Despite many
community programs and active involvement by the police and
residents over the last few years, young people, especially
young men, in this neighborhood continue to feel excluded
from society and trapped in segregated communities that
provide no solid social identity. Dutch authorities worry
that such youth are vulnerable to the allure of an Islamic
extremist message that promises to give them a sense of
belonging and empowerment. One year after the murder of van
Gogh, however, the Dutch government still has no good plan
for preventing the emergence of new Mohammed Bouyeris from
the same mean streets. END COMMENT.
BLAKEMAN