The Dutch weblog GeenStijl reports that an anonymous source close to the police investigation has confirmed that the migrant who was recorded while vandalising a Jewish restaurant in Amsterdam, is Saleh Ali, born in Damascus, Syria, in 1988. Ali, who has been living in The Netherlands “for some time”, was released just 1,5 day after his acts, because he was merely indicted for vandalism, not terrorism.
According to the police investigation, the man has taken part in “the armed struggle” and claims to have fought against Islamic State under the banner of “multiple factions“.
The investigation also relates that the man has fought “in theatres of war other than Syria“, but the source could not further specify the location. Lastly, the source reveals that the police report contradicts itself by first ascribing to the man the Syrian nationality, while later on labelling him “stateless“.
In addition, the law firm representing the Jewish restaurant, Advocatenkantoor Loonstein, reports in a press release after having reviewed the police report, that:
“The by now released Syrian born suspect declared during his police hearing that in the future he’s willing to apply more violence to reach his goals. He also declared he would not mind dying for his cause and in his statement glorifies martyrdom.
The available information conveys that the man intentionally withheld incriminating information during the procedure for attaining Dutch residential status.
He further declares to have been a member of a Palestinian popular movement to liberate Palestine and that this organisation supplied him with weapons and training. He also indicates to have taken part in the armed conflict in Syria.”
Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, meanwhile reports that although he admitted to his willingness to use violence in the future, “he did not intend to do this in The Netherlands” and that he “explicitly declared not to do so again“. Quite reassuring indeed.
The defendant’s lawyer, Willem van Vliet, does, however, admit that his client is trained in, and has experience with armed combat.
Despite these circumstances, the Dutch Public Prosecutor does not want to respond to the suspect’s statements and instead declares that:
“Of course we’ve checked his background to see who we’re dealing with. If we would have concluded that he’s a danger to society, we would not have released him just like that.”
What still remains unclear, however, is for what “multiple factions” the suspect might have fought against Islamic State. The fact that he has also seen action in “in theatres of war other than Syria“, hints that he has fought for Islamist rebel groups, since secular Syrian opposition plays little to no role outside of Syria.
The Dutch Public News earlier reported that the man is a Palestinian.
Syria is home to thirteen Palestinian refugee camps. Six of them are located in the vicinity of the suspect’s birthplace Damascus: Yarmouk, Sbeneh, Khan Alsheh, Jaramanah, Khan Dannun and Qabr Essit. It is thus likely that the suspect used to live in one of those camps.
In April 2015, Islamic State conquered refugee camp Yarmouk, after which Islamic State and the Al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra started fighting each other for dominance over the region. In addition, Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis, a group loyal to Hamas, also fought against Islamic State in Yarmouk.
In this light, it may not be unreasonable to suspect that Saleh Ali has fought against the Islamic State under the Jabhat al-Nusra and/or Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis banner, both of which are designated terrorist organisations. It may also have been the equally terrorist armed wing of Hezbollah, although that’s a bit more of a stretch.
Anyhow: a migrant who is likely to have fought for Islamist armed groups can enter The Netherlands by lying during his application, smash up a Jewish restaurant, and be out the next day after claiming he has:
“no antisemitic motives (…) and that his religion strictly forbids violence.”
Update (18:11h) : According to Dutch newspaper Het Parool, the Dutch Public Prosecutor filed a complaint against the lawyer of the Jewish restaurant, Herman Loonstein, for having made public information stemming from the criminal investigation into the vandalising Syrian migrant.