Radicalization is an intricate process where an individual or a collective adopts a radical ideology that sanctions or endorses violence, such as terrorism, to achieve particular political or ideological goals. In the West, right-wing extremism is increasingly spreading. The threat of violent right-wing radicalized individuals has grown exponentially throughout the years, with most of them being active on internet forums such as 4chan or Reddit. Individuals who have radicalized online actively normalize intolerant and extremist ideas in society.
In the Netherlands, right-wing extremism has become more common, with racist and intolerant ideas being spread both online and in public. The National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), a governmental agency that coordinates counter-terrorism efforts in the Netherlands, is aware of the threat and is actively trying to combat radicalization in the Netherlands. Radicalization and right-wing extremism are both concerns of the NCTV. Although the threat of radicalization in the Netherlands was mainly related to changing societal and political norms, the events in Rotterdam this year might change how anti-extremist organizations look at radicalization.
On the 28th of September 2023, a 32-year-old medical student, Fouad L., was accused of a triple homicide that claimed the lives of a 39-year-old woman, her 14-year-old daughter, and a 43-year-old lecturer at Erasmus Medical Centre. Details about the suspect's extremist ties have surfaced, revealing a concerning online presence on the forum 4Chan. Under the pseudonym @motoranon, he expressed his right-wing extremist views, resentment towards his professors, and alleged animal abuse accusations from his neighbor, whom he later targeted. Fouad L.'s posts show him as a troubled individual with a neo-Nazi ideology. Reports indicate that he had a prior conviction for torturing his rabbit while intoxicated in 2021. The mother killed in the first shooting incident had reported L. for animal abuse, leading to his dismissal from both his job and the university. His posts contained slurs against Jews and Black people and also reflected strong misogynistic views. L. claimed to have completed all his study credits but was denied graduation by the exam board. He consistently portrayed himself as intellectually superior and complained about his perceived mistreatment by authorities and neighbors. His posts also revealed a belief in far-right conspiracy theories, including the notion of a deliberate replacement of white individuals with citizens of color. On 4chan, he justifies the animal abuse with the following posts: “I did what I did only due to mortal levels of alcohol in my blood and deep trauma from being suspended for the X number of times over bull*** normie crap which legit pushed me over the edge,”, and “Do you not ask what brutal torture would lead a man to these actions,”.
Stefan Sleijfer, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Erasmus MC, revealed that L. may have had a grievance against the examination committee at the medical center. The committee had withheld L.'s diploma due to a prior conviction for animal abuse, issuing a condition that he should undergo a psychological evaluation. However, the suspect did not object to this condition at the time. Images of people being stabbed and Nazi material found on his phone during the 2021 animal abuse investigation raised concerns about his suitability.
Despite this warning, the suspect was involved in the fatal shooting at Erasmus medical university. The first incident unfolded at a residence on Heiman Dullaertplein, where gunshots were fired, and a fire erupted. The woman had previously reported L. for animal abuse. The violence escalated when the gunman moved about 1.5 kilometers to the Erasmus Medical Center (Erasmus MC) complex, where he shot and killed the lecturer, identified as Jurgen Damen. The suspect also set fire to a part of the hospital, leading to a chaotic scene with SWAT teams responding. Fouad L. was arrested below the Erasmus MC helipad shortly after the shootings.
The Rotterdam shootings have led to citizens wondering why there have not been more efforts put into monitoring at-risk individuals with a violent past. Radicalized individuals do not often portray themselves as such in a public setting, and they do not express their ideology if they do not feel comfortable doing so unless it is under the confines of their online spaces. As investigations continue, questions surround the broader implications of online extremism. These shootings emphasize the challenges posed by online radicalization and the need for ongoing efforts to address and prevent such incidents.