Van Gogh Killer Confesses in Court

Robert Siegel talks with the BBC's Geraldine Coughlan, who's covering the trial of Mohammed Bouyeri. Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan man, confessed in an Amsterdam court to murdering Theo van Gogh in 2004. Van Gogh had been a well-known critic of Muslim extremists in Holland.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Amsterdam, the man standing trial for the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh admitted his guilt in court today. Mohammed Bouyeri was already linked to the crime by overwhelming evidence, but even so his courtroom declaration today was stunning. Reporter Geraldine Coughlan is covering the trial of Mohammed Bouyeri for the BBC, and she joins us now from The Hague.

What did Mohammed Bouyeri say in court today?

Ms. GERALDINE COUGHLAN (BBC): He said that he wasn't sorry for what he had done. He said that he had killed Theo van Gogh out of religious conviction and that if he had the chance, he would do it again. He also directed a small explanation to Theo van Gogh's mother, and he said that he didn't feel her pain and considered her and her son as non-believers.

SIEGEL: He, I gather, also addressed some Dutch police who were in the courtroom at that point.

Ms. COUGHLAN: Yes, he also addressed them. He said he had shot to kill and that he didn't mind to have been killed in that situation. There was total shock in the courtroom. I mean, some people were actually standing up because they couldn't believe what he was saying. It was really without emotion. As you know, he had evoked the right to silence during the trial, and just before the end he came out with this statement. So it's been met with concern as well as shock and indignation.

SIEGEL: Now I want you to remind us, Theo van Gogh (pronounced van GO), as we've been saying here, or van Gogh (pronounced van HAWK) as he's actually called there, had been a pretty well-known filmmaker and critic of Muslim extremists in the Netherlands.

Ms. COUGHLAN: Yes, he was very outspoken. He was a real character and very well-respected in the intellectual community anyway. And shortly before his death he had released a film "Submission," which was very critical of Islam. He wasn't just critical of Islam but also of other religions. But this one in particular targeted domestic violence under Islamic culture, and it was really quite a shocking film. And it was met with indignation and resentment in the Muslim community here, and it really caused a lot of concern in the media and so on. This was Theo van Gogh, and he strongly defended the freedom of speech.

SIEGEL: And the man who is standing trial for his murder actually pinned a letter of admission to the body of his victim.

Ms. COUGHLAN: Yes, a long letter saying that the killer would be rewarded in paradise and also containing threats to a Somali-born MP here, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was the one who actually wrote the script for the film "Submission," and he threatened her with death. So this was all contained in the note which was pinned to the body, which is really part of this whole gruesome picture.

SIEGEL: Well, I assume that since he is not going to actually make a defense in this trial and rejects the legitimacy of the Dutch trial, he's going to be convicted pretty clearly. What's he likely to be sentenced to?

Ms. COUGHLAN: Well, the prosecution has demanded a life sentence for Mohammed Bouyeri. But then again, when you think about the killer of Pim Fortuyn, the politician who was assassinated here a couple of years ago, he only got 18 years in jail. So there's wide speculation as to what the actual sentence could be. But this is a completely new type of case for the Netherlands. There are terrorist implications. There's no terrorism charges in this particular trial, but prosecutors are investigating whether or not Mohammed Bouyeri had terrorist connections. So it will be interesting to see what type of a verdict the judges will deliver in two weeks time.

SIEGEL: Reporter Geraldine Coughlan from the BBC in Amsterdam speaking to us about what happened today in the courtroom where Mohammed Bouyeri is on trial for the murder of Theo van Gogh (pronounced van GO)--or as you say, van Gogh (pronounced van HAWK). Thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. COUGHLAN: Thanks, Robert.

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