On January 17, Dutch journalist Ans Boersma was expelled from Turkey. Initially, journalists and politicians in the Netherlands responded with outrage, decrying this as another instance of the Turkish government’s violating the freedom of the press.
However, the story quickly took a bizarre twist. Dutch authorities have confirmed that Boersma, 31, is a suspect in an ongoing terrorism investigation.
The investigation centers on her ex-boyfriend, a man of Syrian origin who has been identified publicly only by the name “Abdulaziz al-H.” He was arrested last year on the grounds that he had fought for Jabhat al-Nusra, an organization sometimes called “Al-Qaeda in Syria.” During a pretrial hearing in February, Dutch prosecutors alleged that Abdulaziz held a leadership position in al-Nusra. They claim that he climbed the ranks quickly after he helped orchestrate an attack that killed 200 people. He is also accused of laundering money for al-Nusra.
His case drew significant media attention in the Netherlands long before his connection to Boersma became public. In September 2017, Aziz attended the Amsterdam screening of a documentary about the Syrian civil war. Other people from Syria were in attendance and recognized him as a jihadist. They attempted to have him apprehended, but in the ensuing commotion he managed to flee the theater.
Aziz arrived in the Netherlands in 2014. Dutch authorities suspect Boersma of helping him obtain false documents he used to secure a residence visa. Aziz and Boersma broke up in 2015.
Boersma filed a lawsuit against the Dutch government and is giving interviews to tell her side of the story. She says Abdulaziz admitted to her that he been involved with al-Nusra in its early days when its mission was only to overthrow President Assad. She says he said he quit when it became an Islamic extremist group.
“He always told me that he had no blood on his hands and that he had never committed any human rights violations,” she said in an interview with Dutch media.
Her account was contradicted at Abdulaziz’s pretrial hearing. Dutch authorities were tapping his phone prior to his arrest. Prosecutors allege that in one call Abdulaziz told his brother about an incident in which Boersma found incriminating information on his iPad. He told his brother this caused him to vow to her that he would never kill again. Boersma denies anything of the sort ever took place.
She is not suspected of involvement in acts of terrorism, only of helping a terrorist. When Turkish authorities learned that she was under investigation, they decided to expel her. A spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted an explanation, “If a credible foreign gov’t agency tells you that one of their citizens has links to terrorism, you don’t take any chances. The Dutch authorities alone are in a position to explain why they arrived at that conclusion. We won’t speculate on the credibility of their intelligence.”
If a credible foreign gov't agency tells you that one of their citizens has links to terrorism, you don't take any chances.
The Dutch authorities alone are in a position to explain why they arrived at that conclusion. We won't speculate on the credibility of their intelligence.
— Fahrettin Altun (@fahrettinaltun) January 17, 2019
At first glance, Boersma and Abdulaziz seem like a very unlikely couple. She comes from a Christian background and obtained a BA in journalism from a Christian college.
However, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf writes, “Sources close to Boersma describe her as a lady-like, Christian and naïve woman. It was not a total surprise to them that she started dating a Syrian.” Boersma was passionate about helping Middle-Eastern refugees. In 2015, she spent her vacation volunteering on a Greek island where large numbers of refugees were landing. According to De Telegraaf, upon her return she posted on Facebook, “The term ‘terrorist’ no longer has any meaning for me. Neither does ‘evil.’ Because both words are selectively applied.”
Many Christians in the Netherlands believe their country should welcome refugees from the Middle East. They see this as an important way of “loving thy neighbor.”
American media coverage of the Netherlands often centers on its anti-immigration movement led by far-right politician Geert Wilders. However, the country also has a big pro-immigration faction, many of whom are Christians.
In the Dutch parliament, the Christian Union political party is one of the strongest proponents of pro-refugee policies. In January, the Christian Union played a critical role in enacting a new amnesty for child refugees. Around 600 minors, plus their families, who are deemed to have become rooted in Dutch society will be granted residence permits.
It remains to be seen if Boersma will face charges. Either way, her career in journalism is over. Her employer has publicly cut ties with her. She will also find it difficult to travel outside the Netherlands since many countries bar entry to individuals with links to known terrorists.
Thus, Boersma is unlikely to live down her infamy as the journalist who dated a jidahist.