An animal rights activist who confessed to killing openly gay Dutch prime minister candidate Pim Fortuyn last year said Thursday that he committed the crime to protect the country's Muslim minority from Fortuyn's anti-immigration policies. Volkert van der Graaf, 33, was arrested minutes after Fortuyn was gunned down in a parking lot outside a radio studio on May 6, 2002, just days before general elections in the Netherlands were to take place. At the start of his trial, Van der Graaf openly answered questions about the motives behind the first political assassination in modern Dutch history. Although he confessed, under Dutch law prosecutors need to present their case to a panel of judges. There are no jury trials in the Netherlands.
Wearing a purple shirt and khaki pants, Van der Graaf walked into the courtroom looking relaxed and confident. He briefly scanned the public gallery for familiar faces, avoiding eye contact with Fortuyn's two brothers, Marten and Simon, sitting just a few yards away. "[The idea] was never concrete until the last moment, the day before the attack," Van der Graaf said. "I confess to the shooting." He also confessed to illegal possession of firearms and sending Fortuyn threats before carrying out the attack. Van der Graaf said he had followed Fortuyn's career as a columnist for a popular national magazine and was concerned that Fortuyn was using "the weak parts of society to score points" and gain political power. Muslims in the Netherlands were being used as "scapegoats," he said. "I saw it as a danger, but what should you do about it? I hoped that I could solve it myself."
Separated from the courtroom by a bulletproof glass barrier, onlookers continually interrupted the proceedings, denouncing Van der Graaf as a murderer and chanting "Life! Life!" to press for a tough sentence. One woman stood up to demand that Van der Graaf be jailed for the rest of his days, adding that he "devastated the country," before being dragged away by bailiffs to join a handful of Fortuyn supporters outside.
Van der Graaf was caught with the murder weapon in his pocket and spatters of Fortuyn's blood on his pants. In November he admitted killing Fortuyn, saying he had been worried that Fortuyn was gaining too much power and posed a threat to "vulnerable members of society." He is charged with premeditated murder and faces a maximum life sentence if convicted. During several days of hearings at a high-security courtroom nicknamed "the bunker," judges will consider his mental state at the time of the shooting and whether he can be held accountable for his actions.