A Dutch court sentenced the killer of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh to life in prison Tuesday, the harshest sentence possible for a murder that heightened ethnic tensions and raised concerns about homegrown Islamic terrorism.
Mohammed Bouyeri, 27, had mounted no defense at his two-day trial earlier this month for the Nov. 2 slaying of Van Gogh, whom he accused of insulting Islam, and told the court he would do it again if given the chance.
Presiding judge Udo Willem Bentinck said life in prison was the only fitting punishment for a crime that sought to undermine Dutch democracy and the political system. He said the three-judge panel had concluded there was no possibility for Bouyeri to return to society, citing his lack of remorse.
Bouyeri, wearing a black and white checkered headscarf, showed no emotion as he shook his lawyer’s hand following the verdict. He had earlier told the court he had intended to die in the action and become a martyr for his faith.
Bouyeri has two weeks if he wants to lodge an appeal, but that appeared unlikely.
He was convicted of the murder, described in the judgment as a terrorist attack, the attempted murder of bystanders and police officers, illegal possession of firearms and of impeding the work of a member of parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom he had threatened to kill in a letter impaled in Van Gogh’s chest.
Bouyeri ambushed the filmmaker on an Amsterdam street, shot him repeatedly, stabbed him and slit his throat before thrusting his manifesto into his chest on the point of a knife.
Some witnesses said he was so calm “it looked like he was out walking his dog,” the judge said, describing the murder and the subsequent shootout with police.
In his earlier court appearance, Bouyeri said he had acted in the name of Islam and felt no pain for Van Gogh’s family. “What moved me to do what I did was purely my faith,” he told the court. “I was motivated by the law that commands me to cut off the head of anyone who insults Allah and his prophet.”
Bouyeri is the son of Moroccan immigrants but was raised and educated in the Netherlands.
Van Gogh, a distant relative of the famous painter, was a social critic and columnist who attacked the treatment of women in fundamentalist Islamic households in a short film, “Submission,” which offended many Muslims.
The film’s scriptwriter was Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of parliament who went into hiding for several months after Van Gogh’s murder because she was named in the note left on the corpse.
The killing led to dozens of arson attacks against Islamic schools and mosques and has strained relations with the country’s 1 million Muslim immigrants.
The judgement referred to Bouyeri’s links with a terrorist cell known as the Hofstad Network. He was said to have attended private prayer sessions with a Syrian spiritual leader, Redouan al-Issar, who is reportedly in custody in Damascus, Syria.
On Wednesday, another Dutch court will review the case of a dozen suspected Hofstad Network members. Though they were not accused of having links to Van Gogh’s murder, prosecutors say they were plotting other terrorist attacks.