Man (37) in Dutch custody on suspicion of serving with Islamic State

Security services’ failure to uncover man’s identity re-ignites debate in the Netherlands on country’s vulnerability to hardened militants

A 37-year-old Syrian man has been remanded in custody by an examining magistrate in The Hague on suspicion of serving as a senior security officer with the jihadist group Islamic State and committing war crimes, including murder, between 2015 and 2018.

The Netherlands has been shocked by the arrest of the young father – described by neighbours as quiet, well-mannered and friendly – who was granted asylum by the Dutch authorities in 2019 and has since been living in the little town of Arkel, south-east of The Hague.

The failure of the Dutch security services to uncover his real identity for more than three years has re-ignited a heated debate about the degree to which the country remains vulnerable to the threat posed by hardened militants capable of posing convincingly as refugees.

He was arrested at his terraced home at around 4.30am on Tuesday by heavily armed members of the international crimes unit of the national criminal investigation service, who sealed off the street with vans and cars in the moments before the arrest.


According to the public prosecutor’s office, the suspect is believed to have been an active member of the terrorist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate, before switching his loyalties to Islamic State, also known as Isis, at the height of its insurgency in Iraq and Syria.

The prosecutors allege the man acted as head of security for both organisations at Yarmouk, an ad hoc refugee camp of more than 500 acres on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, where there were vicious clashes between Islamic State and Palestinian fighters, starting in April 2015.

During that time at Yarmouk, he is alleged to have “presided over” abduction, torture and murder “in a management capacity”.

However, the prosecutor’s office said there was no evidence that he had engaged in any criminal or terrorist activities in the Netherlands or been involved in any overseas violence since he was granted asylum.

Under Dutch law, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on foreign soil can be prosecuted under universal jurisdiction if the suspect resides in the Netherlands.

Last year, a Dutch court convicted two Syrian brothers of holding senior roles in Jabhat al-Nusra between 2011 and 2014.

Neighbours described the suspect as “a decent man with a wife and two children”.

They said the man spoke only broken Dutch and the woman none at all, so communication was difficult.

One woman, Melanie van Breejen, said: “He was quiet. He introduced himself when they came to live here. To us they were just ‘the neighbours’. We called on them briefly when their baby was born, that’s all. We often saw them bringing their older daughter to and from school.”

At a short hearing in The Hague on Friday afternoon, an examining magistrate remanded the suspect in continuing custody for 14 days.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court