From Murder in Amsterdam to Flower Vendor in Hama, Syria

Redouan al-Issar, the 43-year-old, Syrian-born spiritual leader of the group that murdered Dutch documentary filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam on November 2, has never been traced despite every effort by the Netherlands police. Van Gogh was executed in a Muslim sacrificial ritual for his documentary film exposing the Muslim practice of forcing girls to accept marriages arranged by their parents and families.

The assassin, Mohammed Bouyeri, 26, of Amsterdam, was caught red-handed and arrested in an exchange of fire with police minutes after he shot the Dutch filmmaker to death and slit his throat. In Bouyeri’s pocket, police found his last will and testament declaring himself ready to die for jihad, or Islamic holy war.

When he was questioned, Bouyeri denied knowing al-Issar. But Dutch intelligence investigators have no doubt that the Syrian mastermind had indeed been in the Netherlands and traveled through Europe using the stolen identities of political prisoners in Syria.

The case has revealed an extensive racket exploiting the identities of political prisoners held in Syria for use by jihadist terrorists.

Al-Issar turns out to have stolen not one but several identities for use as aliases. One belonged to Mohamed Basel al-Issa, a former member of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, since released, which he used in 1998 to claim political asylum in the Netherlands.

Before his arrest, Al-Issa was a flower vendor in the Syrian city of Hama, a bastion of Muslim fundamentalism. The personal particulars listed on Issar’s asylum request to the Dutch government as those of Issa, the flower-seller, were so close to his own that the choice could hardly have been random. Both had the same given names. The addresses on the forms varied only slightly: Arad al-Habara (Green Country) was entered under district in one and under street in the other.


A multiple alias racket?


Both were listed as residing in a house near the military courthouse; they were of the same age and had both spent time in jail. Issa was arrested in 1984 for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned for 11 years. His doppelganger, who went to Holland, was held for eight years in the notorious Tadmor jail. Other documents showed that both had studied in Damascus – al-Issar took electrical engineering; the real Issa, geology.

The former convict Issa was banned by Syrian authorities from leaving the country. He was never issued with a passport and is obliged to report monthly to the Syrian security services on all his contacts. This procedure is routine for Muslim Brotherhood members set free from prison.

There is no way that the real Issa could have spent 10 years in Europe – as did al-Issar. Questioned by Syrian investigators, he protested he had never heard of Redouan al-Issar. Syrian security warned the flower vendor not to talk about the case to anyone.

Pinned down by a reporter, he expressed shock at van Gogh’s murder then said. “Since my release, I am warned not to say a word about this to anyone” – and walked away with his young son in his arms.

Dutch investigators were intrigued by the fact that “The Syrian” they are seeking used in his political asylum request the name of a man who was still in prison when he himself traveled to Europe in 1994. The real Issa did not get out of jail until 1995. All this raises the suspicion that the “fake” Issa, when he applied for asylum in 1998, knew the real Issa had been released from prison three years earlier. It is also possible that Issar received information about the flower vendor from a third party. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terrorism experts believe this information could have come from a member of Syrian intelligence with ties to Muslim fundamentalists – or even from al Qaeda.

The Syrian who disappeared from Holland is believed to travelled also under the name of at least one more Muslim Brotherhood member who served time at Tadmor. Dutch intelligence fears there may be several hundred, if not thousands, of al Qaeda agents or operatives in Amsterdam or other cities in the Netherlands and Europe who are posing as real people still living in the Middle East. This racket would permit sleeper agents to easily switch identities as they cross borders. Indeed the possibility has been raised of a central clearing house somewhere in Europe for issuing false identity papers to agents and terrorists and directing their movements from place to place as needed by the terrorist organizations to which they belong. Up-to-date intelligence reporting recent sightings of the elusive terrorist chief known as The Syrian in Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Spain, supports this theory.

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