A key figure in one of militant Islam’s European networks has joined the ranks of a small but important number of jihadists who have had a change of heart and are calling on their brethren to abandon violence.
Writing from the Vught maximum security prison in the Netherlands, Jason Walters, a leading member of the Hofstad Group that police say was responsible for the 2004 killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, declared that “the ideals that I once honored have been lost and I have come to realize that they are morally bankrupt.”
Walters’ letter, published in Trouw, a Dutch daily, offers a window into the mind of a man who had dedicated his life to propagating militant Islam through violence; it contributes to understanding why some adopt terrorism and what prompts them to reconsider.
The son of an African-American father and Dutch mother, Walters converted to Islam at age 16 and in 2003 made his way to Pakistan from where he returned to boast that he could "disassemble a Kalashnikov blindfolded and put it back together again." Accused of plotting to kill controversial Dutch parliamentarians Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirsh Ali, Walters resisted arrest in 2004 in a 14-hour siege during which he threw a grenade at police.
Unlike the recantations of jihadist ideologues such as Sayyid Imam al-Sharif who employed Islamic theology to explain their change of heart, Walters who is serving a 15-year sentence, denounces a basic tenant of his former worldview that holds that in a world of believers and infidels, the infidels seek to destroy the believers. It is a view Walters now describes as “a childish and coarse simplification of reality” that ignores the complexity and many nuances of which reality is rich.”
Analysts say Walters’ letter, or review document as he describes it, is likely to spark debate in militant Islamist circles and serve as an important tool in efforts to counter jihadists in Europe.