Dutch crown princess and PM under heightened security: Has organized crime turned to terrorism?

Security experts believe encrypted messages about a possible attack on the heir to the throne and the head of government represent a ‘threat to democracy and the rule of law’

Princess Amalia in Amsterdam on September 5.
Princess Amalia in Amsterdam on September 5.P van Katwijk (Getty Images)
Isabel Ferrer

Dutch Crown Princess Catharina-Amalia is under heightened security over concerns that she could be targeted by criminals. These fears, voiced by security and terrorism experts, have forced the 18-year-old to move out of her student accommodation in Amsterdam and return to the Huis ten Bosch royal palace in The Hague, her parents, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, revealed last week.

“She can hardly leave the house,” Dutch news agency ANP quoted Queen Maxima as saying during a state visit to Sweden with her husband.

Police and the Dutch government have remained silent on the matter but experts believe the threat to Princess Amalia, whose formal title is Princess of Orange, is serious. According to the analysts, it is “highly likely” that criminal groups linked to drug trafficking are behind the threats.

If this is the case, it would mark an unprecedented change for the Netherlands, with criminal organizations escalating from settling scores among rivals to threatening democratic institutions. Even Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who often rides his bicycle to work, has also had to accept heightened security due to threats on his life.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on a street in The Hague.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on a street in The Hague.BART MAAT (EFE)

“These kinds of threats were considered practically impossible a few years ago,” sociologist Paul Schnabel told EL PAÍS by phone, referring to the fears over Princess Amalia’s safety.

The heir to the Dutch throne, who is studying a politics and economics degree at the University of Amsterdam, has been largely confined to the royal palace: she only leaves to go to classes. “It has enormous consequences for her life,” Queen Maxima said at a news conference last week. “It means that she’s not living in Amsterdam and that she can’t really go outside.”

“This is terrible news, for her in the first place,” added Rutte. “Everyone involved is doing everything possible to make sure she is safe.”

It is not uncommon for state figures to receive threats because of their position, but in this case “there is no clear ideological element or a political goal,” says Jelle van Buuren, a security expert at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “When the target is no longer money, but the state, its symbols and institutions, it can be considered a form of terrorism.”

Last month, several Dutch media outlets reported that the princess was under heightened security due to fears that she may be targeted by criminal groups. The daily newspaper De Telegraaf said that “the prime minister and the princess were referred to in encrypted messages from organized crime about an alleged attack or kidnapping.”

Erwin Bakker, professor of Terrorism Studies at Leiden University, agrees that the threats indicate that organized crime has reached a new level. “Perhaps we feel distanced from places like Mexico or Italy, where we have seen mafia crimes, but that is a way of denying reality. The government has realized that organized crime threatens the legal order, and that it must invest more in security.”

Peter R. de Vries
Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries in 2019.BAS CZERWINSKI (AFP)

Murder of Peter R. de Vries marks turning point

Experts point to the July 2021 fatal shooting of Dutch investigative reporter Peter R. de Vries in central Amsterdam as a turning point for organized crime. Two men were arrested, but investigators have yet to track down all the suspects. The criminals filmed De Vries’s murder and shared the footage, which according to prosecutors “shows terrorist intent.” “We think that the murder of De Vries was intended to frighten the population of the Netherlands,” said the public prosecution. It is the first time that a crime of this kind has been classified as a terrorist act.

According to Bakker, the case “forces us to reassess the very definition of terrorism, because we are witnessing a threat against democracy and the rule of law.”

De Vries, 64, supported the crown witness in the Marengo trial against leading members of the Mocro Maffia, a Dutch-Moroccan drug trafficking organization. In 2019, the Netherlands was shocked by the murder of 44-year-old Dutch lawyer Derk Wiersum, who was representing the same crown witness in the case. Two years later, De Vries was killed.

The Mocro Maffia is made up of several gangs, and principally operates in Antwerp, Belgium, and in Amsterdam, although they have an international network of contacts. One of its main leaders is Ridouan Taghi, who is behind bars in a maximum security prison in the south of the Netherlands.

But organized crime is not just targeting the state. Four Dutch citizens were arrested in September in and around The Hague after police found a car with weapons and petrol bottles in Belgium. The vehicle had a Dutch license plate and was found in front of the home of Belgian Minister of Justice Vincent van Quickenborne. The Belgian media pointed out that the politician, who spent a few days under heightened security, had received serious threats from “the drug world.”

According to Van Buuren, “the Netherlands has a privileged geographical position for transporting and producing products of all kinds, including drugs.” “We have Schiphol airport and the port of Rotterdam, great connectivity and good roads,” he explained. But the expert says that until the deaths of Wiersum and De Vries, Dutch society believed that these types of criminals only targeted one another. For Bakker, organized crime is one of the biggest threats facing the Netherlands. “The violence of organized crime undermines the legal democratic order,” he said.

Both experts believe a national debate is needed, arguing the problem has not been effectively addressed. “There are differences in parliament regarding the legalization of drugs, but not so on security issues: we have to talk,” said Van Buuren.

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