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Dutch 'Syria fighters' face prosecution if they return home

Dutch citizens who travel to Syria to fight in the civil war are facing prosecution when they return home.

Hundreds of Dutch Muslims are believed to have travelled to Syria to take part in the civil war.Justice minister Ivo Opstelten said the public prosecution service (Openbare Ministerie) was studying the cases of around 30 people who are known to have returned to the Netherlands from the conflict zone.

Opstelten was responding to questions raised in Parliament by the Freedom Party (PVV) in the light of reports that the Dutch security service AIVD was struggling to keep up with developments in the conflict.

The AIVD carries out a risk assessment every time it becomes aware that a fighter has returned to the country from Syria. “In addition the prosecutor’s office considers whether criminal proceedings can be brought,” said the minister.

At least 100 Dutch Muslims, most of them young men, are thought to have travelled to the civil war since the Arab Spring three years ago. Twelve are believed to have died in the fighting.

The government wants to change the law so it can revoke the nationality of Dutch citizens who take part in the conflict in Syria. They also face losing their benefits and student funding.

Opstelten said organisations involved in recruiting so-called jihadists could also be liable for prosecution, but they can only be shut down if they pose a threat to public order.

He added it was “unacceptable” that “Dutch residents are being recruited for the violent jihadist struggle.”

The AIVD claims that fighters returning from Syria are the greatest security threat at the moment in the Netherlands, but will not go into details about specific operations.

It says it is struggling to keep up with developments in the radicalisation process, which has become more sophisticated and interactive in recent months. “One-way” processes such as recruitment videos have given way to online forums and chatrooms where potential fighters find support among their peers.

The warning comes at a time when the intelligence services are facing cuts to their budget as part of the Dutch government’s overall austerity plan. The AIVD’s funding is due to be reduced by one-third over the next four years and 200 staff will lose their jobs.

Rob de Wijk, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies in The Hague, told NRC that the agency faced an “enormous capacity problem” if the cuts went through.

He said the recruitment network was expanding beyond the “established structures”, such as mosques and could only be effectively tackled by an increase in the AIVD’s activities.