Justice Min. under fire over languishing anti-terrorism cooperation with Turkey

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Ard van der Steur (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons)Ard van der Steur (Photo: Rijksoverheid.nl/Wikimedia Commons)

Minister Ard van der Steur of Security and Justice is again facing criticism from opposition parties in Parliament, this time over a never-realized cooperation task force between the Netherlands and Turkey aimed at addressing jihadists and foreign rebel fighters in the Syrian civil war, RTL Nieuws reports.

After a visit to Turkey in November last year, Van der Steur wrote to the Tweede Kamer, lower house of parliament, that a special task force consisting of Dutch and Turkish officials was to be created. This task force will address problems and make agreements in the fields of "drug related crime, counterterrorism, and jihadists". But sources told the broadcaster that five months later, "very little" has come of this - the task force never came together.

The Ministry of Security and Justice confirmed to the broadcaster that the task force never came together. According to a Ministry spokesperson, this will happen as soon as Dutch officials agree on "how this broad cooperation can be further deepened". The spokesperson added that Van der Steur will contact his Turkish counterpart "very soon" about the timely sharing of information on extraditions.

The sharing of extradition information is a touchy subject for Van der Steur and another reason he is facing heat from the Kamer. In July last year Ibrahim El Bakraoui was extradited from Turkey to the Netherlands, without the Netherlands knowing about it. On March 22nd, El Bakraoui was one of three suicide bombers that committed terrorist attacks in Brussels.

Van der Steur is also in trouble for wrongly informing the Kamer on where American information on El Bakraoui and his brother Khalid, another Brussels bomber, came from. He first stated that his Ministry received info on the brothers' criminal and terrorist background from the FBI, a week before they blew themselves up in Brussels. Later he had to admit that the information actually came from the New York Police Department. 

D66 leader Alexander Pechtold called the revelation regarding the Dutch-Turkish task force a "remarkable development". "The confusion is only increasing", Pechtold said to RTL. "Is there a protocol or not? Are there agreements with Turkey or not? And now again the task force. It would be good if there is one, but a task force that never comes together is not a task force."

Sybrand Buma, CDA leader, is also disappointed. "If this is true, it indicates a shocking lack of urgency. Foreign rebel fighters in Syria almost all come back via Turkey so hard agreements with Turkey are essential."

According to SP leader Emile Roemer, this is the "umpteenth time" that Van der Steur does not have things in order, does not fulfill promises to the Kamer and does not properly inform the Kamer.

Van der Steur will have to explain all the blunders made in the run-up to the terrorist attacks in Brussels in a Tweede Kamer debate later this week.

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