Defense attorney slaying investigated by Dutch counter-terrorism agency

Police forensics at Derk Wiersum shooting scene
A police forensic investigator searches for evidence after the shooting death of attorney Derk Wiersum in Amsterdam. Sept. 18, 2019. (Image: Politie Amsterdam)

Authorities investigating the murder of criminal defense attorney Derk Wiersum in Amsterdam have joined forces with Dutch counter-terrorism agency NCTV in the hunt for the perpetrator. Police are still searching for the suspect they believe to be responsible for the crime.

Wiersum was defending Nabil B., a key witness in the probe into a criminal organization allegedly led by at-large suspect Ridouan Taghi. After several missteps by the public prosecutor's office (OM) regarding his client, Wiersum reportedly told colleagues he did not trust the police or OM with maintaining his own safety. The father of two had not yet selected a private security detail when he was killed in front of his wife at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Officers have appealed to the public for any information that can help solve the crime. The suspect in the brazen morning shooting is believed to be between 16 and 20 years of age, and wearing dark clothes with a hoodie.

The NCTV will work with the police and OM to boost security for lawyers and judges, particularly those involved in the Taghi case. Investigators involved in the case will also be evaluated for extra protection.

The decision to organize the case under the NCTV was announced by Security and Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhuis hours after the shooting. Speaking to media, he expressed his disgust saying that an attack on an officer of the court is also an attack on the democratic rule of law. "Organized crime has crossed the line. The safety of these people must always be without question," he said.

As the day progressed, one person after another expressed their outrage at the situation. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the situation was very disturbing, while the entire Amsterdam city council called for an emergency debate on the criminal underworld.

Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema said, "The assassination of a brother of a crown witness was ice cold. A lawyer now being added is even further below freeing point. It is a major violation of our constitutional state."

Earlier in the week, she joined several other Dutch mayors in an open letter asking the national government to do more to tackle criminal organizations which take part in acts meant to "undermine" the rule of law. Grapperhaus responded on Budget Day with a commitment to invest more in the fight against organized crime, and to expand the ability of municipalities to seize assets.

"As a society we cannot accept this. We must do everything we can to stop criminal undermining," said police chief Erik Akerboom. "These and other forms of extreme violence, as far as I am concerned, show that a broad and long-term approach to undermining is needed. "

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