Mark Rutte, Dutch Prime Minister, Gets Extra Security

THE HAGUE — For years, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands has cycled or walked to his city-center workplace, commuting to work like tens of millions of different Dutch individuals, unencumbered by the massive safety particulars that encompass different world leaders.

So a report in a Dutch newspaper this week that the police had beefed up safety round Mr. Rutte after suspicious actions round him by individuals believed to be related to the nation’s infamous drug gangs has rattled many within the Netherlands.

The authorities have declined to formally verify the report within the newspaper, De Telegraaf, and it isn’t clear whether or not Mr. Rutte has been informed to cease biking to work.

“We by no means say something about security and safety,” Mr. Rutte informed reporters.

Nevertheless, a police official and a senior Dutch authorities official, talking on situation of anonymity, confirmed that there had been fears for Mr. Rutte’s safety. They declined to offer particulars, citing security causes, however the police official stated the safety issues have been associated to individuals concerned in organized crime, and that new measures to guard him had been carried out earlier this month.

Nobody doubts that organized crime has a foothold within the Netherlands. The nation is a transport hub within the drug commerce for cocaine from South America to Europe. And lately, the authorities have blamed organized crime for 2 high-profile killings, most lately the deadly taking pictures of a distinguished crime reporter, Peter R. de Vries.

However the query now could be whether or not the nation’s prime minister is a goal for gangsters, too. On that, opinion is split.

“The Dutch misplaced their naïveté towards organized crime after the killing of Peter R. de Vries,” stated Michel Oz, a police officer and consultant of the Dutch Police Affiliation. He stated the threats towards the prime minister confirmed that organized crime teams “need to sign that they’re above the legislation.”

Others say that whereas drug-trafficking gangs have grown extra keen to assault outsiders, the victims have been individuals they see as direct threats to their operations like crime reporters or attorneys — not politicians.

Damian Zaitch, a professor of criminology at Utrecht College who has performed intensive analysis on the drug commerce within the Netherlands, stated the gangs had little to realize by focusing on the prime minister.

“There may be extra violence from drug traffickers, who used to kill one another and now attain to outer circles — households, attorneys,” Mr. Zaitch stated. “However drug traffickers focusing on politicians? For what?”

What is evident, nonetheless, is that the escalation of violence linked to the drug commerce within the Netherlands has been a supply of rising concern for the authorities.

A sequence of police operations since final 12 months has additionally solid a lightweight on the central place of the Netherlands in Europe’s drug commerce, which Europol described in a report this month because the “staging level for cocaine trafficking on the continent.” The Netherlands can also be a middle for the unlawful manufacturing of amphetamines and crystal meth.

Mr. Rutte’s authorities stated this month that it will dedicate a further 430 million euros, or about $500 million, over the approaching 12 months to struggle organized crime.

Nonetheless, the Netherlands’ murder fee, at 0.6 per 100,000 individuals, stays far beneath the typical of most developed international locations, and is in step with its European neighbors.

“The extremely publicized murders make the state of affairs spectacular,” stated Dina Siegel-Rozenblit, a professor of criminology at Utrecht College. “However we’re not in a narco-state, regardless of what some within the Netherlands prefer to say.”

Maybe as a measure of that, Mr. Rutte has appeared in public this week with out a seen safety presence.

Peter Pronk, the supervisor of a fish store subsequent to the Parliament and authorities places of work in The Hague, stated he had seen Mr. Rutte stroll to work final week and had not seen any further safety.

“He had his briefcase and a cup of espresso, like so many people would do — besides he was requested to take a selfie on the gate,” Mr. Pronk stated.

Including to the confusion, prosecutors in The Hague stated that that they had arrested an area councilor on Sunday over what they known as “suspicious habits” regarding Mr. Rutte. Though they didn’t hyperlink it to the risk reported within the Dutch newspaper, the arrest sparked hypothesis that it could be associated.

The councilor, Arnoud van Doorn, was launched on Monday, based on his lawyer, Anis Boumanjal, who stated Mr. van Doorn had been noticed on Sunday in locations the place Mr. Rutte was a daily, however that it had been a coincidence. Mr. van Doorn is not a suspect and the case towards him was dropped, Mr. Boumanjal stated on Wednesday.

For years, competing drug gangs have carried out kidnappings and sporadic shootings in huge Dutch cities, however the current violence has taken issues to a brand new stage, culminating in July with the taking pictures of Mr. de Vries as he was leaving a TV studio.

Mr. de Vries additionally served as an adviser to a key witness in an ongoing trial wherein 17 individuals, together with Ridouan Taghi, who’s suspected of being the ringleader of a drug trafficking group, are accused of involvement in killings and tried murders between 2015 and 2017.

The killing of Mr. de Vries got here after Derk Wiersum, a lawyer for a similar witness, was killed in Amsterdam in 2019. The witness’s brother was shot useless in 2018.

“The brink to commit a liquidation appears to be decrease at present than earlier than,” prosecutors have stated, describing the assassinations as a part of a “well-oiled killing machine.”

Within the operations that they launched final 12 months, the Dutch police have dismantled a number of cocaine manufacturing laboratories, arrested dozens of suspects and seized file quantities of cocaine.

A part of the rationale for the surge in drug trafficking by way of the Netherlands is that traffickers in Latin America largely depend on delivery containers to ship cocaine to Europe, which supplies a important position to Rotterdam, the continent’s largest seaport, in addition to to different huge container ports like Antwerp in Belgium and Hamburg in Germany.

“Cocaine travels with bananas and low, similar to conventional items from Latin American come by way of ports in northern Europe,” stated Letizia Paoli, a professor of criminology at Ok.U. Leuven, a college in Belgium.

Europol and the United Nations’ Workplace on Medication and Crime warn that the booming cocaine market in Europe, which is extra profitable than that of america, had prompted an increase in assassinations, shootings, kidnappings and torture, amongst different crimes.

That has in flip left legislation enforcement officers within the Netherlands on edge, based on analysts.

“In Dutch legislation enforcement, everyone seems to be questioning the place will this finish, and the way this can evolve,” stated Jan Meeus, against the law reporter on the newspaper NRC Handelsblad who covers drug trafficking within the Netherlands.

Michael Schwirtz and Claire Moses contributed reporting from London.

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