The Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) has announced that police have arrested a Syrian national who is suspected of having been a security chief for the Islamic State terrorist organization—and of committing war crimes—during the Syrian war, leaving many wondering how he managed to enter the European Union.
The 37-year-old man was arrested by Dutch security forces on Tuesday, January 17th, in the village of Arkel in South Holland, some 40 kilometers outside of Rotterdam, where he had been living after claiming asylum in the Netherlands in 2019, the Amsterdam-based newspaper De Telegraaf reports.
The OM believes the man occupied a senior position in the security service of the Islamic State between 2015 and 2018. Prior to that, he is said to have held the same position in Jabhat al-Nusra, another Salafist terrorist organization.
According to a statement by the spokesperson from the OM, the suspect, as a security chief for the Islamic State, was someone who determined policy and thus is one of the individuals behind the effective commission of war crimes.
Authorities believe the alleged IS and al-Nusra security chief held positions in and around the Yarmouk refugee camp, situated some 8 kilometers from the center of the Syrian capital Damascus.
The arrest comes after the Public Prosecution Service initiated an investigation alongside the National Criminal Investigation Department after the special Dutch war crimes police team received a tip-off about the man’s past.
The suspect, whose identity remains unknown, faces two charges: membership in a terrorist organization and membership in a criminal organization with the aim of committing war crimes. He is set to be brought before the examining magistrate in The Hague on Friday, January 20th, where it will be decided whether he remains in detention.
If it turns out that the man served as a security chief for the two terrorist organizations, it would not mark the first time that a high-level Islamist extremist who fled Syria in the wake of the fall of the Islamic State managed to make his way to the Netherlands.
Aiz al-H., the so-called “Balie jihadi,” is perhaps the most well-known example of a terrorist leader slipping through the cracks of Europe’s screening processes and entering the Netherlands among many thousands of Syrian refugees. Shortly after arriving in the fall of 2017, Aziz began showing up in Amsterdam’s Café-Restaurant De Balie, a 19th-century courthouse that hosts debates, theater, and talk shows with a social or political focus, where fellow Syrians recognized him as a terrorist ringleader. Police then arrested Aziz some months later in 2018, before a court went on to sentence him to 16 years in prison for charges related to terrorism.