Kill Dutch Jihadis So They Can't Return Home, Says PM's Party

Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte gestures during the World Economic Forum summit in Davos January 22, 2015. Ruben Sprich/Reuters

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte courted controversy in a TV debate last night by saying it would be better if jihadis who leave to fight in Syria died there rather than return to the country. But today a spokesperson for his party went even further, saying that it would be better for the Dutch armed forces, who are participating the the fight against ISIS, to kill their fellow citizens rather than allow them to return home where they might commit acts of terror.

Speaking at a televised leaders' debate, Rutte, who leads the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) drew criticism from his opponents for saying he agreed with the statement that it would be better if jihadis died in Syria instead of coming home.

Rutte defended his position, saying that those who go to Syria to fight know what they are getting into. "The only aim is to kill as many people as possible", he said.

"Those people will soon be back to carry out attacks here as well. As prime minister, I am here to protect our people."

The leader of social-liberal opposition party Democrats 66, Alexander Pechtold, who called the comments "unworthy of a prime minister", said today that he was astonished and "a little bit ashamed that our prime minister said let them die over there".

But responding to him, VVD party spokesperson Laura Huisman went even further, saying that it was better for Dutch nationals who had travelled to the Middle East to fight to be killed by the Dutch military than to allow them to return.

"I think Mr Pechtold overestimates the degree to which Dutch courts can exercise their jurisdiction in northern Iraq and northern and eastern Syria," she said. "As such, his critique is not based on a rational appreciation of facts on the ground. However, I must acknowledge Mr Pechtold's ardent support for the Netherlands' participation in the combat against ISIL's barbarians. The logical consequence of which is that terrorists, some of them undoubtedly Dutch, do get in the way of our lethal weapons. That's much to be preferred than their returning as hardened, bloodthirsty, gun-toting terrorists, longing to kill as many Dutchmen as possible. The Netherlands is a safer and better place without them."

The Netherlands has sent six F-16 fighter jets to aid in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.

All of the other party leaders present at the debate, which was not attended by the leader of the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), Geert Wilders, due to illness, disagreed with the statement that it would be better for Dutch jihadists to die than return.

"They are not only hardliners, there are children," Pechtold said today. "Youth organisations in the Netherlands think there are about 30 children over there," he says. There are also Dutch girls turned to Islam under pressure, and I think you can never say 'let them die over there in the desert'."

"I think every jihadist coming back to the Netherlands has to go to court to explain themselves", he added.

Pechtold says Rutte's comments could be designed to be populist: "I think for the majority of the Dutch population their first reaction is let them go over there let them die, that's something emotional. But we don't have capital punishment so we want to have the rule of law."

The National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism department released a statement in November last year that around 160 Dutch nationals travelled abroad for jihad over the past two years.

"As far as we know, 18 have died, some in the airstrikes by the international coalition or as a result of violence within the jihadist groups," it read. "Around 30 have returned to the Netherlands. There are currently around 100 Dutch nationals still in the combat zone, including about 30 women."

And in February this year the Dutch government approved measures to bolster security apparatus to tackle the threat of terrorism posed by jihadis. An extra €128.8 million was pledged to boost spending in the security services, police, military and border forces. In a statement announcing the spending plans, the government announced: "Because the jihadist threat is expected to persist for a long time, the services must take account of an increasing focus on the growing number of people returning from conflict zones, a possible increase in the number of number of sites requiring protection, and extra efforts to prevent and combat radicalisation."