Dutch authorities have arrested a 19-year-old woman suspected of recruiting jihadists to fight alongside radical Muslim rebels in Syria, a prosecution spokeswoman said on Monday.
“The woman was arrested and has been remanded for two weeks while an investigation is under way,” Nicolette Stoel, spokeswoman for the Public Prosecutor’s office in The Hague, told AFP.
There is growing concern in the Netherlands about young Dutch Muslims being enlisted to fight in Syria, with a British study in April saying at least 107 Dutch citizens were fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the war-torn country.
Police arrested the woman in Zoetermeer, a small city just east of The Hague, on Wednesday after families filed complaints with the authorities that their relatives had gone to fight in Syria.
“In some of the complaints people who are allegedly enlisting fighters are named,” Stoel said.
The young woman will remain behind bars for a fortnight before a judge must decide whether the case against her can go ahead.
“At this stage she is only allowed contact with her lawyer,” Stoel said.
“In the meantime, a broader investigation into the recruitment by radical Muslims of young people to fight in Syria is under way. First and foremost we have to ensure their safety as they want to travel to a dangerous area,” she added.
Public prosecutors have said that while authorities cannot stop would-be jihadists from leaving the country, they can combat recruitment, which is against the law and carries a sentence of up to four years in jail or a fine of 78,000 euros ($102,000).
Stoel declined to comment further on the case.
Amsterdam-based lawyer Bart Nooitgedagt, who represents other Dutch citizens accused of allegedly recruiting jihadists to fight in Syria, told AFP that such cases are difficult to prove.
“You have to have somebody who has returned from Syria saying: ‘I have been recruited.’ There must be objective evidence to support such a claim, like tapped telephone conversations or emails to prove that the person was recruited,” he told AFP.
“Relatives simply filing complaints is not enough,” he said.
Nooitgedagt said that as far as he could recall, there have been no succesful prosecutions yet for jihadist recruitment in the Netherlands.
As many as 600 Europeans may have joined rebel forces in Syria since early 2011, according to research published in April by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London.
It was estimated that 134 fighters from Britain have headed to Syria, along with up to 107 from the Netherlands, 92 from France and 85 from Belgium.
Others came from Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Albania, Austria, Bulgaria and Kosovo.
In November last year, Dutch police arrested three would-be jihadists who were about to leave the Netherlands.
They confiscated knives, a sword and a cross-bow, as well as packed backpacks, farewell letters and a large quantity of jihadist literature.