A Dutch-Moroccan man confessed in court on Tuesday to murdering a filmmaker critical of Islam last year, breaking his silence over a killing that fanned religious and racial tension in the Netherlands.
Mohammed Bouyeri was accused of killing Theo van Gogh as he cycled to work in Amsterdam on Nov. 2, 2004. He was charged with shooting and stabbing Van Gogh before slashing his throat and pinning a note to his body with a knife in broad daylight.
Van Gogh, a descendent of the brother of the 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, was known for his outspoken criticism of Islam and angered many Muslims by making a film which accused Islam of condoning violence against women.
“I did what I did purely out my beliefs,” the 27-year-old Muslim told judges after entering court clutching a Quran. “I want you to know that I acted out of conviction and not that I took his life because he was Dutch or because I was Moroccan and felt insulted.”
The bearded suspect, dressed in a black robe and black and white headscarf, praised Allah and the Prophet Mohammed before admitting to the killing on the second day of his trial in Amsterdam’s high-security court.
Van Gogh’s murder sparked a wave of attacks on mosques, religious schools and churches in a country once renowned for its tolerance, and raised questions about the integration of the almost 1 million Muslims living in the Netherlands.
Memories of Pim Fotuyn
Van Gogh’s slaying prompted memories of the murder of anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn by an animal rights activist in 2002 in a country grappling with fears of terrorist attacks after its support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Bouyeri told judges he had acted according to his convictions. Unrepentant, he told the victim’s mother — who was in court — that he did not sympathize with her loss and would be prepared to do the same again.
“If I ever get free, I would do it again," he said.
Bouyeri could face up to life in prison if found guilty of the murder. He faces other charges including the attempted murder of police officers and illegal possession of weapons. A verdict is due in two weeks.
Prosecutors say his acts had a terrorist intent and called for him to be jailed for life. They described Van Gogh’s killing as a cowardly attack on a defenseless man.
“I take full responsibility upon myself,” Bouyeri told the court. “It would be cowardly if I hid here behind the rules of the game by saying nothing and to avoid the chance of receiving the maximum sentence.”
Prosecutors say Bouyeri, who waived the right to mount a defense, was a radical Muslim dedicated to a holy war against the enemies of Islam and had murdered Van Gogh to spread terror in the Netherlands.
“The cutting of Van Gogh’s throat evokes beheadings in the Middle East, the wars in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq,” prosecutor Frits van Straelen told judges. The prosecutor earlier read out detailed reports from witnesses to the killing.
Prosecutors have said the accused believed he was doing God’s will and wanted to die a “martyr” at the hands of police. The suspect was injured in a gun battle with police before he was arrested in eastern Amsterdam shortly after the murder.
Bouyeri, who was born and grew up in Amsterdam, was accused of a premeditated attack. Prosecutors say he ignored Van Gogh’s pleas for mercy.
The five-page note left pinned to Van Gogh’s body quoted the Quran and was addressed to Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for Van Gogh’s film “Submission” about violence against women. She went into hiding for weeks after the murder.