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Drug kingpin accused of leading "well-oiled killing machine" gets life sentence in the Netherlands

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Dutch drug kingpin Ridouan Taghi received a life sentence on Tuesday over a series of murders committed by his gang that shocked the Netherlands. Prosecutors called the alleged campaign of assassinations a "well-oiled killing machine."

Taghi, 46, is the alleged mastermind of the Amsterdam-based group called the "Mocro-maffia" that is thought to be one of the Netherlands' largest cocaine distributors.

Security around the trial has been extremely tight with judges and prosecutors asking not to be identified. At least three people directly connected to the mega six-year trial have been killed.

"We are sentencing all 17 suspects. Ridouan Taghi gets life in prison," said a judge at the Amsterdam District Court.

Taghi was the "undisputed leader" of what the judge called a "murder organization."

"He decided who would be killed and he spared no one," said the judge, whose face was not shown on a television feed. "The amount of suffering Taghi caused to the victims and their loved ones is barely imaginable."

Sixteen other suspects were handed sentences ranging between life and one year and nine months.

Taghi's sentence can be reviewed after 25 years, but it did not mean he was automatically eligible for parole, public prosecutors told AFP. Taghi was not present in the courtroom.

A lawyer for another suspect, named Said R., said his client would appeal a life sentence.  

Taghi allegedly ordered a string of "liquidations"

Once the Netherlands' most-wanted fugitive, Taghi was arrested in Dubai in 2019.

The BBC reported at the time that Taghi was detained entering Dubai on a fake ID and held under an international arrest warrant on suspicion of multiple murders and drug running. Described by police as one of the world's "most dangerous men," he was suspected of ordering a string of "liquidations", including the murder of lawyer Derk Wiersum. Taghi was believed to have been living in Dubai with his wife and six children, the BBC reported.

Despite being held at an ultra-secure prison, prosecutors say he continued pulling the strings, sending secret messages to henchmen on the outside.

Heavily-armed police on Tuesday threw a ring of steel around the courthouse nicknamed "The Bunker," on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

A security official looks on as a vehicle arrives at "The Bunker," an extra-secure court in Amsterdam Osdorp on Oct. 28, 2022, for the continuation of "The Marengo Trial" in which main suspect Ridouan Taghi is suspected of leading an extremely violent gang that has allegedly committed multiple assassinations and attempts at others.  REMKO DE WAAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Officers armed with automatic rifles and wearing face masks to protect their identities were guarding the court, while drones and a police helicopter circled overhead, AFP correspondents saw.

Taghi and 16 other accused did not face charges for the three murders that occurred during their trial.

They faced six other counts of murder and attempted murder — including ordering some 13 hits — carried out between 2015 and 2017, mainly against people suspected of becoming police informants.

On Tuesday, Taghi was convicted on five murder counts, including on a man called Hakim Changachi, who was gunned down in Utrecht in 2017 in what prosecutors say was a case of mistaken identity.

"Taghi was responsible for the mistake," said the judge.

"You will always have to look over your shoulder"  

Shortly afterwards police made a breakthrough in the case, when one of the suspected gang members, "Nabil B.," handed himself over and agreed to become the prosecution's main witness.

A new wave of violence followed after Nabil B. turned state witness, leaving three people dead in scenes that shocked the nation.

Nabil B.'s brother was murdered in 2018, his lawyer Derk Wiersum was shot dead outside his house in 2019, and the prominent Dutch crime journalist Peter R. de Vries was killed in 2021.

De Vries acted as Nabil B.'s confidant at the time of his murder and had said before he was on Taghi's hit list.

The judge said the Nabil B.'s testimony led to convictions in five murders that otherwise would not have been solved.

But after handing him a reduced sentence, the presiding judge added that he "will have to live with the reality that you will always have to look over your shoulder."

Taghi's gang was nicknamed the "Mocro-maffia" because its members are mainly of Moroccan and Antillean origin.

Taghi has denied all charges, and has said money spent on a "sham trial could rather have gone to employing more teachers and police and healthcare."

None of the suspects made any statements during the trial, which was delayed by several dramatic developments.

Taghi's lawyer Inez Weski was arrested in April last year, with prosecutors accusing her of passing messages between her client and the outside world.

New lawyers were appointed for Taghi, but they too have since resigned.

The prosecution's case consisted of more than 800 pages with evidence not only from Nabil B., but also conversations from encrypted telephones called "Pretty Good Privacy" (PGP) phones, often favored by criminal organizations.

"We would like to take a moment to remember the three people murdered during the hearings," the judge said on Tuesday. "All of this has given this trial a pitch-black edge."

Dutch MPs hailed the conviction, with far-right politician Geert Wilders' -- whose PVV party won last year's elections -- saying on social media, "it's a beautiful day for the Netherlands."

In November 2022, law enforcement authorities in six different countries joined forces to take down a "super cartel" of drugs traffickers controlling about one third of the cocaine trade in Europe. An anonymous Europol source told AFP that a "big fish" Dutch suspect with alleged links to Taghi was among those detained.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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