x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Disputed terror arrests leave Dutch Somalis reeling

Authorities say the arrested a dozen residents to prevent an attack, but little evidence of any intent to mount a terror campaign has been found and the Somali community is seeking answers.

ROTTERDAM // A police raid in Rotterdam in which 12 Somalis were arrested and some of their businesses and houses searched has left the Somali community in the Netherlands feeling targeted and vulnerable.

Authorities said they acted last Friday to prevent a terror attack but the police found neither weapons nor explosives and six of the suspects have been released without charge.

At a West Rotterdam mobile-phone shop - named Banadir after the province around Somalia's capital, Mogadishu - Nuur Farah held back his head and clamped a hand over his nose, trying to stop a sudden bleed. "It is the stress," whispered one of the shop attendants while fetching damp towels.

"My brother is still being held by the police. We have not heard from him at all. They took him away like a criminal with his hands cuffed and a cap over his head," Mr Farah said moments later, still holding a napkin to his nose. His brother Osman is the phone shop's owner and was arrested there by the police on Friday night.

"Neither my brother nor the owner of the other shop ever had anything to do with terrorism," Mr Farah said. "When the police act, they should do so on the basis of firm evidence, not just speculation."

The lawyer for several of the arrested Somalis has threatened to sue the state over what he characterised as a "blundered" operation. But Dutch prosecutors and police said they acted on information provided by the country's security services.

The raid has thrust the country's Somali community of 20,000 people, which was classified in a recent government report as one of the poorest and most vulnerable migrant groups, into the public limelight. "Somalis, the new terror threat," blared one newspaper's headline. It is unwelcome attention for a community that had until now mostly been noted for producing the right-wing intellectual firebrand Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

But while many expressed shock at the suggestion that any of the Somalis living in the city could be involved in terrorism, some community leaders and Dutch researchers were less surprised. The former pointed out that there was a large divide between those who came to the Netherlands more than a decade ago, in the early and mid 1990s, and more recent arrivals. They said that the second wave of immigrants had been affected by the rise of the militant Islamic fundamentalist Al Shabab movement and by the worsening violence in their country. "Radical religious movements in Somalia are very active now in the diaspora. That is a major change," Guled Yusuf Ahmad, a spokesman for the Dutch Somali foundation Nedsom, said.

In Rotterdam, which with 2,000 has the largest concentration of Somalis in the Netherlands, some also suspected that a new, more radical element had entered the community. The simply named Somali mosque in the west of the city is widely known for its respected preacher and also for attracting a wide following from among the neighbourhood's Moroccan residents. An official in the mosque, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak for the board, said that he had been aware of the influx of a different type of people.

"But they're very hard for us to get a grip on because they simply don't come here. They know their ideology is not welcome here," he said. In his view the newcomers, often youngsters who have recently left Somalia, "use religion purely for political purposes. They don't even know much about their faith".

Dutch researchers who warned in 2009 about the potential of radicalisation among the Somali community disagree that it is just the newcomers who may pose a threat. They pointed out that the community was poor and badly integrated and that many saw the Netherlands more as a transit country on the way to Great Britain than a place to settle.

"Fundamentalist religious beliefs do not get imported from Somalia but arise in the Netherlands from a feeling of being ignored and left behind," warned the report published by the Tilburg Institute for Social Policy Research and Consultancy, which is associated with Tilburg University.

Mr Farah, his brother and the owner of another phone shop who was arrested in Rotterdam belong to the earlier wave of immigrants and they speak fluent Dutch. Mr Farah rejected the idea that more recent arrivals were radicalised and planned to organise a Somali demonstration in the city this week to counter that image. "It is absurd if you ask me. These people know what violence is and fled it. All they want is to have a quiet life, not more violence."