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Europe

Van Gogh Trial Opens Under High Security

The trial of Mohammed Bouyeri, a Moroccan Dutch national accused of the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, opened Monday at a high security court in Amsterdam. Bouyeri has refused to offer a defense.

Theo Van Gogh's murder shocked Holland and caused ethnic tensions

Bouyeri, whom prosecutors describe as a radical Islamist, was present in court but his lawyer said he did not want to be defended. He also refused to participate in his trial voluntarily but the court issued an order for him to be brought in regardless.

Bouyeri, 27, came to court dressed in a long black shirt and a Palestinian black and white checkered headscarf and carrying a green leather-bound book embossed with gold Arabic script.

His lawyer Peter Plasman announced he will not present a defense. "It is my client's wish that there will be no defense not by him but also not on his behalf... He will use his right to remain silent," Plasman said in a short statement.

When Judge Udo Willem Bentinck asked Plasman whether Bouyeri's refusal was connected to his beliefs the lawyer would not answer, but Bentick said, "I see your client nodding."

Plasman repeated that Bouyeri "takes complete responsibility for his actions and that specifically means his actions on November 2, 2004," the day Van Gogh was killed.

Born and raised in Amsterdam, the 27-year-old Bouyeri is a radical Islamist who hoped to die a martyr after killing controversial filmmaker Van Gogh, a distant relative of 19th century painter Vincent van Gogh, police said.

Public execution-style murder shocked the nation

Theo van Gogh

Theo van Gogh, who was also a well-known columnist noted for his virulent attacks on multicultural society and Islam, was shot and stabbed in broad daylight while he cycled on the streets of Amsterdam. Several months before the murder he directed a short film called "Submission," which was critical of abuses against women under Islam.

A letter was left on his body that included quotations from the Koran and threats to several Dutch politicians, including Somali-born lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali who wrote the script for "Submission."

Bouyeri was arrested as he was attempting to flee the murder scene, according to police.

Ethnic tensions escalated

Firefighters try to douse the flames at the Bedir Islamic elementary school in Uden, the Netherlands. The fire at the school was suspected arson as part of a string of attacks in the Netherlands in the wake of the killing of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker, allegedly by an Islamic extremist.

The assassination caused a surge in ethnic tension in the Netherlands and a wave of over 150 reprisal attacks on mosques, Islamic schools and churches followed.

Bouyeri is charged with murdering Van Gogh, attempted murder of several police officers and bystanders and obstructing the work of Hirsi Ali as a member of parliament. If convicted he could be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison. Under Dutch law a life sentence is applied in the literal sense.

Even though prosecutors have said that Bouyeri was "a leading figure" in a terrorist organization known as the Hofstad group he has not yet been charged in that connection as they do not have sufficient evidence.

Possible second trial on terrorist charges

Monday's trial will therefore only focus on Van Gogh's murder and related events. Under the Dutch legal system, Bouyeri could be separately tried later for membership in a terrorist organization.

Security was tight around the courtroom with a sniffer dog checking the building and its surroundings for bombs and all visitors and media thoroughly searched.

The court has set two days for the trial, with the possibility of extending into Wednesday.

DW.DE