Author: Paul Burke

The Netherlands’ largest terrorist threat is identified in the latest national strategy (2016-2020) as “global jihadism”. This is unchanged from the previous national strategy of 2011-2015 which also placed “international jihadism” as the first of four clusters, or focus areas. The next major threat comes from other extremist groups, that traditionally use methodologies and communications networks similar to those used by terrorist groups.

1       Political & Security Context

2       The Architecture of Counter-Terrorism

3       Counter-Terrorism Legislation & The Legal Framework

4       CT Tools & tactics



1         Political & Security Context


1.1       Contemporary Terrorism in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has historically enjoyed a low number of terrorist attacks compared to some European countries. A number of terrorist incidents occurred in the mid-1970s, carried out by South Moluccans agitating for an independent State. Other terrorist attacks in the 1970s came from left-wing groups. In 1974, three members of the Japanese Red Army (JRA) took over the French Embassy in The Hague, taking the French Ambassador and other diplomats hostage. In 1977, the Red Army Faction (RAF) murdered a Dutch Police officer and in 1978 they murdered two customs officials.

A group called Red Youth carried out a small number of ineffectual attacks in the 1970s, mainly against property. Another group, the Revolutionary Anti-Racist Action, carried out a sustained campaign of bombings during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, again focused on targeting property. Their attacks were more coordinated and in a period of less than 18 months, their arson attacks had caused more than $75 million of damage to property. In 1979, the British Ambassador to the Netherlands was murdered in the street together with his valet, by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. In 2004, Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamist attacker in the streets of Amsterdam.

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1.2       Nature of the Current Threat

The Netherlands’ largest terrorist threat is identified in the latest national strategy (2016-2020) as “global jihadism”. This is unchanged from the previous national strategy of 2011-2015 which also placed “international jihadism” as the first of four clusters, or focus areas. The next major threat comes from other extremist groups, that traditionally use methodologies and communications networks similar to those used by terrorist groups.

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1.2.1     Islamist Attacks

On 02 November, 2004, Theo van Gogh was killed by Mohammed Bouyeri, a 26-year-old Moroccan-Dutch Muslim. At the time of his murder, van Gogh had been involved in making a controversial film, Submission, which was critical of verses from the Koran concerning the treatment of women in Islam. Bouyeri shot van Gogh multiple times before cutting his throat and attempting to decapitate him. He was arrested and tried for murder and several other offences such as the attempted murder of Police officers. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole.

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1.2.2     Extremist Attacks

In 2002 the controversial Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, was murdered in Hilversum by a single attacker angered at Fortuyn’s comments about Islam, homosexuals and immigrants. His attacker shot Fortuyn multiple times, and was quickly apprehended by the Police. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.

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2         The Architecture of Counter-Terrorism

Three Ministries are key stakeholders in the national counter-terrorism sphere of the Netherlands. The Ministry of Defence (MvD), the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations (MBZK) and the Ministry of Security and Justice (MVJ).

2.1       The Review Committee for the Intelligence and Security Services (CTIVD)


The CTIVD was established in 2002 and its role is to conduct the review process for the IAVD and the MIVD. It has four primary responsibilities: “to conduct investigations and report on them in public review reports; to publish an annual report; to advise the ministers concerned on handling complaints about GISS and DISS; to provide the ministers concerned with solicited or unsolicited advice on its conclusions”. The members of the Committee are appointed for a 6-year term of office. Unusually, the selection process requires the representation of all three State powers, viz. the judiciary, the legislature and the executive, which helps to ensure the independence of the Committee.

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2.2       Ministry of Defence (MvD)

The MvD is responsible for one of the three key Intelligence organs in the Netherlands, the Military Intelligence and Security Agency (MIVD). The MIVD is responsible for a number of roles. It collects Intelligence on the military capabilities of foreign nations, in particular in any locations wherein the Dutch armed forces are deployed overseas, or in which NATO allies are operating. It is also responsible for counter-espionage operations, to maintain its own operational security, and it collects Intelligence in the sphere of counter-terrorism. The MIVD is organised as follows:

Figure 1: Organisational structure of the MIVD 16


2.2.1     Defence Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD)


The MIVD is responsible for the provision of Intelligence to senior military decision-makers and policy-makers in the Ministry of Defence. This role covers a wide remit, including support to military operations, crisis management and humanitarian aid. The agency employs the usual Intelligence sources, such as international liaison, inter-agency partnerships, open sources (OSINT), imagery (IMINT) and communications intercept (SIGINT). Its Intelligence activities are regulated by the Intelligence and Security Services Act of 2002. In terms of transparency, accountability and oversight, it is overseen by the CTIVD

2.2.2     Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (KMAR)

The role of the KMAR is to ensure the protection of the State, domestically and externally. The force is a military gendarmerie, akin to a Military Police force, and to provides the manpower for the protection of institutions such as the royal places and key ministries. In addition to these roles, they are also responsible for border security, and for surveillance operations in counter-narcotics, human trafficking and terrorism cases.

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2.3       Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations (MBZK)

The MBZK is the guardian of the central democratic values of the Netherlands. Its responsibilities include the following:

democracy and the rule of law; public administration; the quality of personnel and management within central government; the Dutch constitution and the system of constitutional government; the partnership with Curaçao, St Maarten and Aruba; public housing and government buildings”.

2.3.1     General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD)

The MBZK oversees the second core Intelligence organ of the Netherlands, the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). The AIVD is charged with “identifying activities and persons posing a potential threat to theocratic legal order or the safety of the state”. In a similar approach to the UK’s own Security Service (MI5), officers from the AIVD have no executive powers of arrest, ensuring an appropriate separation of powers when investigating domestic targets. Like the MIVD, the AIVD is overseen by the CTIVD for purposes of oversight, accountability and transparency. The AIVD is organised as follows:

Figure 2: Organisational structure of the AIVD organisation

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2.4       Ministry of Security & Justice (MVJ)


At the upper level of policy, the MVJ sits at the top of the CT landscape in the Netherlands. The Ministry’s mission statement defines its role as being responsible for “maintaining the rule of law in the Netherlands, so that people can live together in freedom, regardless of their life-style or views”. The MVJ is organised as follows:

Figure 3: Organisational structure of the MVJ


2.4.1     NCTV

Sitting one level below the MVJ is a body at the centre of counter-terrorism strategy in the Netherlands. The National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terorrism (NCTV) is an overarching body which sits above three, distinct pillars: counter-terrorism, cyber-security and crisis management. Placing the threat of terrorism alongside these other two threats allows for a comprehensive approach to be taken to the management and control of a national crisis, regardless of whether it comes from a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or a deliberate cyber-incident.

The National Counter-Terrorism Strategy is published every five years and defines the Netherlands’ strategic approach for dealing with the terrorist and the extremist threat. The strategy adopts a multi-agency apporach to the problem, recognising that no single agency or body has the capabilities or resources to counter the threats from extremism and terrorism.

The objective of the strategy is to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks and to limit any damage following a possible attack. The NCTV coordinates the efforts of all parties in the Netherlands that have a role in counterterrorism. In combatting the current threat of jihadist terrorism (violent extremism), the NCTV coordinates the implementation of the Netherlands comprehensive action programme to combat jihadism. The NCTV also cooperates with other governments and in international partnerships, such as the European Union and the United Nations. The NCTV is organised as follows:[i]

Figure 4: Organisational structure of the NCTV 23



3         Counter-Terrorism Legislation & The Legal Framework

The Dutch approach to counter-terrorism policy is aptly summarised by van Leeuwen, who states that the Dutch government tried to “balance repressive power with preventative and social measures”. This is described as the “broad-based approach” which has as its aim “the early recognition of radicalisation processes in groups and individuals in order to prevent them from committing terrorist violence by means of targeted intervention strategies”.

3.1       Crimes of Terrorism Act 2004

The primary legislative instrument available to the Netherlands in the fight against terrorism is the Crimes of Terrorism Act 2004. This was supplemented in March 2017 with 3 new laws enacted by the Netherlands in relation to counter-terrorism. These laws were introduced under the auspices of a plan called the “Integrated Approach to Jihadism”, which aims to close loopholes presented by contemporary problems that may not have been foreseen in previous, traditional legislation.

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3.2       Intelligence and Security Services Act 2002

This Act provides the powers, and their limits, for the Intelligence and security services (primarily AIVD, MIVD, RNMC, KMAR) in the Netherlands. It provides for the AIVD to conduct investigations into individuals and groups which may constitute a suspected threat to national security, or to the “democratic legal order”. The Act also provides for the AIVD to collect Intelligence against foreign governments and targets. There are a number of key articles within the Act, that provide for core functions to be carried out.



Article 38 provides for the information-sharing mechanism between the AIVD on one side, and the Police and Public Prosecutors on the other side, in terrorism-related cases (Netherlands Parliament, 2002, Artikel 38). Article 60 provides for the AIVD to request operational support and assistance in terrorism-related cases, from the Regional Intelligence Services and from the RNMC’s Special Security Service (Netherlands Parliament, 2002, Artikel 60). Article 62 mandates that the Police must forward any information to the AIVD, that could be of interest in terrorism-related cases (Netherlands Parliament, 2002, Artikel 62). This Act also regulates the AIVD’s ability to collect Intelligence against foreign governments.

3.3       Counter-Terrorism (Interim Administrative Measures) Act 2017

The Counterterrorism (Interim Administrative Measures) Act provides new tools for law enforcement to counter individuals engaged, directly or indirectly, in terrorist activities. This law provides for the imposition of travel ban, on individuals suspected of planning to travel to conflict zones, e.g. for those planning to take part in jihadist activities.

3.4       Passport Act Amendment Act 2017

The Passport Act Amendment Act introduces a new power which ensures that a Netherlands passport will be automatically invalidated for travel, if the holder of the passport has been subject to a travel ban by the MVJ. Given the scenario of a Dutch national travelling to Syria or Iraq to take part in jihadist operations, this law would enable the immediate cancellation of the validity of a given passport, such that onward travel through another transit State, such as Turkey, should technically not be possible.

3.5       Netherlands Nationality Act 2017

The Netherlands Nationality Act provides for the revocation of Dutch nationality, if a person is deemed to pose a “direct threat to national security”. In common with other EU nations, however, this could only be applied if the person in question holds a second nationality, as EU law does not permit an EU State to render a citizen stateless, by way of punishment.

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4         CT Tools & tactics

4.1       Definitions of Terrorism


Two separate definitions of terrorism are used by the NCTV. The National Strategy for 2015-2020 provides the following definition:

the perpetration of ideologically inspired acts of violence against people or of acts intended to cause property damage and calculated to result in social disruption, in order to undermine and destabilise society, create a climate of fear among the general public or influence political decision-making

This is described as a “working definition…used for policy and strategic purposes”. The NCTV website provides a second definition described as being used by “all parties that are involved in counterterrorism”:

Terrorism is defined as threatening, making preparations for or perpetrating, for ideological reasons, acts of serious violence directed at people or other acts intended to cause property damage that could spark social disruption, for the purpose of bringing about social change, creating a climate of fear among the general public, or influencing political decision-making”.

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4.2       Definition of Extremism

The National Counter-Terrorism Strategy of the Netherlands defines extremism as “a phenomenon whereby individuals or groups who are motivated by a certain ideology engage in serious criminal behaviour or take actions that undermine the democratic legal order”. Extremism can come from different ideologies and the Netherlands considers the threat equally, whether it emanates from right-wing, left-wing, religious or single-issue groups (e.g. anti-abortion, animal rights, environmentalists, asylum policy activists, etc.). The key thread here is a group’s willingness to carry out “criminal acts on ideological grounds”, as it is crossing this line which moves a group from enjoying the freedom of speech, to conspiring to conduct criminal acts.

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4.3       Strategic Principles for 2016-2020

The previous strategy contained five pillars: Intelligence gathering, Prevention, Protection, Preparation and Pursuit. These were very closely aligned with the UK’s CONTEST (Counter-Terrorism Strategy) which designated four pillars of Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare. The Dutch strategy now includes an additional element, that of “Procure”. The name is slightly misleading in that is has nothing to do with the procurement of equipment, services and tools. Rather it focuses on the procurement of Intelligence itself, to support the other elements. The current strategy replaced the term “pillars” with “areas of intervention”. The five areas of intervention in the current strategy are detailed below.

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4.3.1     PROCURE

This area is about the collection, analysis and use of Intelligence concerning threats to Dutch national security, and this Intelligence is used in support of the other intervention areas. It is classed as the gathering and assessing of “Intelligence about (potential) threats to our national security and our interests abroad”.

4.3.2     PREVENT

This area aims to “prevent and disrupt extremism and to thwart terrorist attacks”. Prevent is not solely focused on deterring attacks, but also on preventing fear in society and preventing recruitment by terrorist or extremist groups.

4.3.3     PROTECT

The aim of this intervention area is to protect “people, property and vital processes from extremism and terrorist threats (both physical and virtual)”. Under Protect also comes the specific sub-domain of protecting civil aviation, which falls under the DB3 Directorate. The protection of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) is also included in Protect.

4.3.4     PREPARE

In a similar way to the UK’s approach, the Netherlands includes the necessary preparation for what is usually terms “post-attack recovery”. This focuses on the aftermath of a terrorist incident and is aimed at ensuring that society can get back to normal as quickly as possible, in the aftermath of a terrorist (or otherwise critical) incident. In the immediate aftermath, this area usually includes plans to facilitate the effectiveness of emergency services, to ensure that the necessary levels of medical support are able to attend the scene(s) without unnecessary delay.

4.3.5     PROSECUTE

The aim of this area is to “enforce the law in the face of extremism and terrorism”. In the event of a successful (or even attempted) attack, a key priority is in using the most appropriate legislative tools to ensure a successful prosecution and conviction of the offenders. The current strategy explains how new tools have been added to the legislative inventory, such as the ability to question a witness without the identity of the officer being revealed, and the criminalisation of the financing of terrorism.

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4.3.6     CT Infobox

CT InfoBox is an IT-based tool to which a range of partner agencies have access. The aim of the tool is to “improve the official information position in respect of persons posing a potential terrorist or radical threat to Dutch society, and to enable appropriate action to be taken”. CT Infobox provides information on individuals and networks in terrorism cases. The joint nature of the tool is an important one, bringing together at least 10 partner agencies all collaborating in the fight against terrorism.[ii]

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[i] NB: the Resilience Department (DW) has been re-named from 01 April 2017, to “Security Regions and Crisis Coordination” (DVC).

[ii] Confirmed partners of CT InfoBox are: “AIVD, MIVD, Central Unit of the Police, KMar, IND, FIOD-ECD, Public Prosecution Services, FIU-NL, Inspectorate SZW and NCTV30.


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