On 21 May, Dutch police and Public Prosecutor reported the arrest of a 47-year-old Syrian in Kapelle. The suspect is alleged to have commanded the Ghuraba’a Mohassan (Strangers of Mohassan) battalion of terrorist organisation Jabhat al-Nusra, and to have been known as Abu Khuder at the time.

In a coordinated international police action, a total of 8 houses have been searched. A separate German investigation searched 6 houses in Germany occupied by other suspected members of Ghuraba’a Mohassan, while Dutch police also searched a house in Ede. A man living there was in contact with the suspect. The search of the house in Kapelle yielded documents, a computer and a smartphone.

The arrested Syrian has been in the Netherlands since 2014, on a temporary asylum permit. He has been taken into custody. On Friday he will be brought before a magistrate of the The Hague District Court, which is the Court appointed to rule on cases concerning international crimes, including war crimes.

Aby Khudar is perhaps best known in the West from an interview he gave with British newspaper The Guardian in 2012. In the interview, he explained his life from being an officer in a mechanised Syrian border force, to taking up arms against the Syrian government with the Free Syrian Army:

“He soon became disillusioned with what he saw as the rebel army’s disorganisation and inability to strike at the regime, however. He illustrated this by describing an attempt to attack the government garrison in Mohassen. (…) ‘When we attacked the base with the FSA we tried everything and failed,’ said Abu Khuder. ‘Even with around 200 men attacking from multiple fronts they couldn’t injure a single government soldier and instead wasted 1.5m Syrian pounds [£14,500] on firing ammunition at the walls.’ (…) Then a group of devout and disciplined Islamist fighters in the nearby village offered to help. They summoned an expert from Damascus and after two days of work handed Abu Khuder their token of friendship: a truck rigged with two tonnes of explosives. Two men drove the truck close to the gate of the base and detonated it remotely. The explosion was so large, Abu Khuder said, that windows and metal shutters were blown hundreds of metres, trees were ripped up by their roots and a huge crater was left in the middle of the road. (…) ‘Al-Qaida has experience in these military activities and it knows how to deal with it.’ After the bombing, Abu Khuder split with the FSA and pledged allegiance to al-Qaida’s organisation in Syria, the Jabhat al Nusra or Solidarity Front. He let his beard grow and adopted the religious rhetoric of a jihadi, becoming a commander of one their battalions.”

From soldier, to rebel, to IS explosives expert

When asked by one of those present at the interview what he “[was] trying to do (…),” Abu Khuder answered that it was Al-Qaida’s goal to establish an Islamic state, adding that

“Those who fear the organisation fear the implementation of Allah’s jurisdiction. If you don’t commit sins there is nothing to fear.”

What happened to Abu Khuder in the years after this interview? Well, if the reports from Germany are correct, he travelled to the Netherlands at one point between 2012 and 2014. Of course, Judith Sargentini MEP was absolutely right in 2015 when she said that there is absolutely no proof he came by boat. But in hindsight, her estimation of people afraid of IS-fighters slipping into Europe as refugees as ‘hysterical’ might not have been as spot-on a remark as she might have thought it was.

Abu Khuder isn’t the first Syrian refugee now thought to have been involved with IS either. Hours after the news of the arrest, Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported that Abdelaziz A., might have been an informer of the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD). Abdelaziz gained national fame in the Netherlands in November 2017, after he was recognised as IS-fighter while visiting an Amsterdam screening of a film on the work by Raqqa is being slaughtered silently in September. It took the Dutch police more than a year to apprehend him.

Extra spicy detail? Abdelaziz A. was also a member of Jabhat al-Nusra and also came to the Netherlands in 2014, where he was given temporary asylum. Now don’t vote ‘hysterical’ in the coming elections, you hear…