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Liesbeth van der Heide Interviewed by Dutch Newspaper ‘De Volkskrant’ on the Psyche of Terrorists

In May 2018, Malek F. stabbed three people in The Hague. According to Malek F., he was told by a ‘big bird’ in the sky to randomly stab people. His lawyers registered a plea of insanity with the court because of his mental condition. In the end, the court sentenced Malek F. to involuntary commitment to a psychiatric criminal facility.

Mental Health Problems

It does not often happen that somebody is convicted of terrorism in the Netherlands. Mohammed B., the murderer of Dutch film producer and critic Theo van Gogh, was the first to be convicted. Malek F. would have been the first terrorist whose mental health problems did not contribute to his crimes. Several studies show that many perpetrators of terrorist attacks and other extremists have mental health problems or are mentally retarded. ‘Unfortunately, there is a thin and not very clear line between mental health problems and terrorism,’ says Liesbeth van der Heide, researcher and lecturer at Leiden University’s Institute of Security and Global Affairs. ‘It is very difficult to decide if somebody is actually crazy enough to not be called a terrorist. The scientific discussions on the matter are still ongoing. The only thing we know for certain is that their actions have to be ideologically motivated in order to be classified as terrorism.’

You can read the full article (in Dutch) on the De Volkskrant website. 

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