A police pursuit after an armed robbery of a valuables transport in Amsterdam North ended in November 2021 in a meadow in Broek in Waterland.Image Hollandse Hoogte / Novum RegionPhotos

    Last weekend, at the request of the Belgian authorities, the Dutch police arrested four suspects for the thwarted kidnapping of Belgian Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne. A car with a black and yellow license plate was found near his house in Kortrijk, containing bottles of petrol, an automatic rifle and tension straps. Monday it turned out that the suspects are being held longer.

    Fijnaut is shocked by the news. “This is the first time I see such a concrete threat against such a high authority,” he says. For the kidnapping of a minister, we have to go back to the days of left-wing terrorism in Western Europe, when the Italian Red Brigades kidnapped and murdered politician Aldo Moro, and the Red Army Faction (RAF) liquidated Attorney General Siegfried Buback and Hanns -Martin Schleyer, president of the German employers’ association, was kidnapped and found dead in a trunk.’

    Underrated for years

    According to the criminologist, the authorities have underestimated for years how intertwined the drug problem in Belgium and the Netherlands has become. ‘That is because both countries have a large important port. Dutch criminals go to Belgium and vice versa, they abuse the border to avoid their own police and justice system.’

    Occurs annually in Antwerp alone tens of billions to hard drugs, with all the consequences that entails. ‘I call that the mafianization of Belgium and the Netherlands. We do not yet have established mafia structures, such as in Italy. But we do see that core traits of the mafia, such as violence against the government, are taken over at the highest level.’

    Van Quickenborne would have been used as a bargaining chip to release prisoners, Fijnaut thinks. ‘The fact that the suspects are Dutch does not necessarily mean that this group wanted to get the Dutch free. Because of that interdependence, it could very well be Belgian criminals.’

    Tilburg criminologist Toine spapens joins this. ‘The most obvious scenario is that criminals were looking for a last straw to free detainees. We don’t know for sure because so little is known. But I can’t imagine such organizations kidnapping a minister for ransom. Because in principle they earn enough from drug trafficking.’

    The arrests make it clear that some groups are not only guilty of crime but also terrorism, he says. “In the past, they tried to stay under the radar as much as possible and to avoid conflict with the authorities. Now apparently they are not afraid of anything anymore.’

    Joint problem

    Among other things, the professor conducted research into the interconnectedness of Dutch and Belgian drug crime. ‘Belgium has long pointed to the Netherlands: all problems come from your country, solve that and then we will no longer have a drug problem. That was too short sighted. They realize more and more that it is a joint problem.’

    Spapens has been arguing for better cooperation between the police and the judiciary in both countries for years. “Progress has been made on major criminal cases. And the Zeeland-West-Brabant police unit responds a lot faster to requests for legal assistance from Belgium when it comes to drugs. But it’s too much incident-driven.’

    There is also a lot going on in Belgium, Fijnaut warns. ‘I have been following criminal developments in Belgium for a long time, also in the Walloon-speaking area. The difference with the Netherlands seems large, because the Dutch media publish a lot about it and Belgium is much more reserved about it. But don’t be deceived: in practice the difference is much smaller than the media suggest.’