Speaker Series Recap • Dick Schoof

Three weeks ago, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) visited VU Amsterdam to discuss the current threat level for terrorism in the Netherlands. After the attacks in Paris, Brussels, Berlin and London – four cities that are in many ways similar to Amsterdam – many of us wonder: ‘will Amsterdam be next?’. In this Speaker Series Recap, we look back at the insightful afternoon with Dick Schoof and tell you all about our insights and takeaways.  

Dick Schoof (1957) is the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism. Schoof was appointed in his role in March 2013.At the time the Dutch threat level was increased from considerable to substantial, which is the second-highest threat level the NCTV recognizes.

The hub of the security community

First things first, what is the NCTV about? The goal of the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) is to protect the Netherlands from threats that could disrupt Dutch Society. The NCTV is the hub of the security community – a network organization that works together with many partners, such as the research community and the private sector.

Whenever a crisis occurs, the National Coordinator chairs the crisis meeting and acts as the principal advisor of the cabinet. While the NCTV is an informal authority with almost none formal powers, their advice is rarely neglected. If a politician or organization decides to act differently than recommended by the NCTV, they better have a good explanation for this to the public.

According to Schoof, questions the NCTV repeatedly ask themselves are: Is the current threat level for terrorism in the Netherlands still accurate? Do we have to take extra measures? How and what do we communicate to the general public?

How secure is the Netherlands?

According to Schoof, the Netherlands and Europe are safe places to live. The most recent terrorist attack in the Netherlands occurred thirteen years ago with the murder of Theo van Gogh. There have been many events with jihadist movements ever since, but not in the Netherlands.

However, no guarantee can be given that the Netherlands will be spared a terrorist attack. Paris, Brussels, Berlin and London, generally have a similar threat profile to that of the Netherlands. The current threat level in the Netherlands is substantial (level 4 out of 5). This means that the chance of an attack in the Netherlands is real, but that there is no concrete information about an attack being prepared yet. The current threat level has been maintained since 22 March 2013, when Dutch civilians started travelling to Syria to fight in the civil war.

From loser to war hero?

What kind of person must you be to be a terrorist? Could this happen to anyone? Well, the reasons to become a terrorist differ per person. Simply put: there is not one specific reason. Many are lured to ISIS by the idea that they can join an important battle. This gives them a sense of meaning or relevance – from loser to war hero. Some terrorist also act based on true ideological considerations.

“There is no such thing as a one size fits all for terrorism”

Terrorists often come from the same city, neighbourhood, schools and universities. They are part of the same networks and often radicalize together. However, there are different kinds of terrorists: from members of the international networks to the lone attacker, and returned foreign fighter. The current generation of terrorists and foreign fighters are hardened, more experienced in fighting battels, further radicalized and willing to play an important role in the jihadist movement.

Some facts and figures

  • The current threat level in the Netherlands is substantial (level 4 out of 5)
  • In total, around 270 Dutch jihadists have travelled to Syria and Iraq
  • 44 Dutch jihadists have been killed and around 40 have returned
  • Around 190 Dutch jihadists remain in Syria and Iraq
  • An ISIS operative in Rotterdam was arrested in March 2016 and confirmed that international terrorist networks are active on Dutch soil
  • Polarisation in the Netherlands did not increase as much around the parliamentary elections as expected

The challenges we are facing       

Jihadism remain the principal terrorist threat. ISIS is currently losing ground in Syria and Iraq, which is positive news. However, this fragmentation of the ‘caliphate’ also has its downside, namely the gradual return of Dutch jihadist travellers from Syria and Iraq. It is not likely that all will return as some will die, go to neighbouring countries or pick up the battle on remaining ISIS ground.

“Jihadism remains the principal terrorist threat”

But what happens to those who return? Returnees are detected as early as possible in order to minimize their threat. They are probably first detected around the Turkish border. Every returnee is arrested immediately for questioning and prosecuted. If someone cannot be prosecuted, the secret police will keep an eye on them.

Dick Schoof answers your questions!

During the Speaker Series event, students got the opportunity to ask Dick Schoof their pressing questions.

“There has not been an attack in the Netherlands in thirty years. Do you think the Dutch approach to terrorism is simply better than other countries, or are we not an attractive target to terrorists?”

What happened in Paris, Berlin and Brussels, can happen anytime in the Netherlands. We simply do not know. This might be an interesting question to ask in the future. Maybe we can look at it and evaluate why some countries were the victim of terrorist attacks and others not.

“What are the biggest organizational issues of the NCTV? And what will be the main focus to achieve with the new government?”

The NCTV is a well-fitted organization, but probably too large. The NCTV is somehow too deep into operations. The NCTV is involved in many cases at the moment as it had to learn local governments the dangers of radicalization – they needed a framework on how to tackle this issue. However, now it is important for the NCTV to get out of operations and only act as a strategic advisor.

Regarding the new government, the NCTV stresses the importance of cyber security and influencing stakeholders. It is important that there will be an investment plan in place for private security in which both public and private parties will do their share.

Are you interested in attending the next Speaker Series with Michael van Praag? Keep an eye on our website and Facebook for further details! Furthermore, are you interested in reading more about current affairs? Then click here to read one of our blogs about students’ opinion on Donald Trump.

Note: this article was based on the speech held by Dick Schoof and the public information available on the website of the NCTV.