A 16-YEAR-OLD Muslim girl has been detained by police in the Netherlands following a tip-off from the domestic security service to prevent her travelling to Syria to become a jihadist fighter against the forces of president Bashar al-Assad.
The girl is the first female volunteer to be stopped before leaving the country – although there were suggestions at the weekend that two other women have previously made the journey, and that as many as nine of those who’ve gone to fight since 2011 have been under 18.
Police have confirmed their intervention, but further details about the teenager remain secret for fear of compromising informants working for the security service, AIVD – which has been on alert since the Dutch terror threat was increased to “substantial”, the second highest level, last month.
The national counter-terrorism co-ordinator confirmed at the time that the increase – just weeks before the investiture of the new king, Willem-Alexander – was directly related to the threat posed by radicalised Dutch-born would-be jihadists or by experienced fighters returning from Syria.
What is known is that the teenage girl was identified because of her association with one of three recruiters for the Syrian armed opposition who had been under surveillance for some months.
This type of surveillance has been reasonably successful. Last November three men, two in their 20s and another in his 30s, were arrested in Rotterdam just before they left the country. Police found weapons, what were described as “jihadist texts”, and farewell letters to their families.
One of the men had married only a week before his arrest and police found a photograph in which he posed with a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle and on which he wrote: “I hope we will die together and go to paradise.”
The three had planned to take a flight from Brussels to Turkey and from there to travel overland to the Syrian border.
Although the 16-year-old girl was detained by police, they did not say whether she was arrested or whether she will now face charges. Police spokesperson Nicole Bogers would only say she had been "stopped" before leaving the country.
Ms Bogers said the counter-terrorism co-ordinator had estimated recently that as many as 100 Dutch-born jihadists had travelled to the conflict in Syria, and there were now "strong indications that a further 24 have gone".
If this is accurate, it would make the Netherlands the largest single European source of opposition fighters for the war in Syria, in which the UN estimates some 80,000 people have so far been killed.