For the family of Dutch crime journalist Peter R de Vries, the news that he had been shot in the head on an Amsterdam street shortly after leaving a television studio was the realisation of something they had long feared.
“Yesterday our worst nightmare became reality,” his son Royce wrote in a public message.
De Vries had gone public with the fact that his life was under threat in 2019, announcing in a television interview that police had informed him that there was a threat to his life from the figure who was then the Netherlands’ most-wanted man.
For Dutch crime journalists, the incident represents an escalation in a long-running spate of violence linked to drug cartels
“This is something I have to publicise. I think that it’s better strategically, tactically, so that everyone knows about it, people are warned, and a potential perpetrator considering this might think again,” de Vries said at the time.
The man he named as the source of the threat was Ridouan Taghi, widely described in Dutch and Irish media as an associate of Daniel Kinahan. Taghi was arrested in Dubai in December 2019 and taken to the Netherlands, where he awaits trial in a top-security prison, accused by Dutch prosecutors of leading a cocaine trafficking organisation and ordering killings in the so-called Marengo trial. He has publicly denied threatening to kill de Vries.
Attempts to prosecute Taghi have been plagued by shootings. De Vries had been acting as a "confidential adviser" to Nabil B, a witness who had been expected to testify against Taghi. Nabil B's brother Reduan was shot dead in 2018, and his lawyer, Derk Wiersum, was killed in front of his home in 2019.
The shooting of de Vries, who was nationally known, has shocked the country and beyond. It led the Dutch king, Willem-Alexander, to speak about the royal family's shock and upset, and overshadowed a sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld called for action "so that organised crime does not control the streets".
The Netherlands has long been a linchpin for the international drugs trade because of its ports and the logistics arteries that connect them across the continent
For Dutch crime journalists, the incident represents an escalation in a long-running spate of violence linked to drug cartels that has seen increasingly outlandish acts of violence, from the severed head that was left outside an Amsterdam shisha lounge to the firing of an anti-tank missile into the offices of the magazine Panorama.
"We have had several extremely violent incidents in the Netherlands in recent years," says Wouter Laumans, a crime reporter with Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool and author of Mocro Maffia, a book about a new generation of criminals in the Dutch underworld. "There's been a big gang war that has been raging in the Netherlands for quite a while, and some of the people involved are also involved with the Kinahan crew."
The Netherlands has long been a linchpin for the international drugs trade because of its ports and the logistics arteries that connect them across the continent, making it the gateway to Europe.
A boom in the cocaine trade from South America is blamed for the rise in organised crime violence, which led the Dutch police union to warn in 2019 that it was becoming a "narco-state". In an opinion poll, 59 per cent of the public agreed.
"I would call it a 'narco state light'," says Laumans. "We don't have people dangling from bridges like in Guatemala or Mexico. But we have had very serious, very serious violence."
'We feel that the attack on Mr de Vries has more to do with him representing the crown witness than him working as a journalist'
The shooting has deeply shocked Dutch media circles. Threats to journalists covering crime are common – the murder of Martin Kok, a criminal-turned-crime blogger, is among the crimes under prosecution in the Marengo trial, and it's not uncommon for crime journalists to live under police protection. "We have been living with these kind of threats for some time now," says Laumans.
However, Laumans believes that the shooting of de Vries was not primarily due to his journalistic work.
"We feel that the attack on Mr de Vries has more to do with him representing the crown witness than him working as a journalist," says Laumans. "It's not that his reporting got him shot, like Veronica Guerin, but it's more that he started to represent somebody that's involved in the crime case against Ridouan Taghi."
The incident, Laumans believes, underscores that a different approach is needed to tackle the international nature of organised crime.
"The time that policing these gangs was done nationally I think has to be put behind us," says Laumans. "These guys are living in Dubai, living in the south of Spain, then travelling to Colombia. It's gone transnational. That's the biggest difference in recent years."