Escape fears | 

Drones, helicopers and armoured jeeps deployed as Europe's top gangster Ridouan Taghi goes on trial

Ridouan Taghi appeared untouchable until he was arrested in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in December 2019.

Ridouan Taghi

Nicola Tallant

“Do you think they are afraid they would try to escape him?” I ask my fellow crime correspondent Jan Meeus from NRC in Amsterdam who is covering the trial of mob boss Ridouan Taghi, the business partner of Daniel Kinahan currently facing murder charges in the biggest case the Netherlands has ever seen.

He has just described scenes he witnessed at daybreak at the courthouse known at the Bunker in Amsterdam involving military helicopters, drones and armoured jeeps.

Meeus should have seen it all before.

He’s the author of a book about the most notorious Dutch criminal William Holleeder who faced two trials in the very same high security courthouse.

But he tells me: “This is something different… Escape? I think that is exactly what they are afraid of.”

Anyone listening in to our conversation on my podcast Crime World Extra this week would think we were gone daft – two crime reporters getting lost in the stuff of movies.

Instead this is the reality of narco-terrorism which is now firmly embedded in Ireland and across Europe.

Ridouan Taghi could undoubtedly be escaped by the dangerous soldiers that he still has and because of the money he has amassed over two decades climbing up the gangland ladder and eventually forming a ‘super cartel’ with Kinahan’s Irish mafia, the Italian Camorra and a Bosnian mob.

Taghi appeared untouchable until he was arrested in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in December 2019.

He was The Netherland’s most wanted and had been a fugitive for years but now he spends every hour in solitary confinement in a prison so secure that a special room has been built to interrogate him.

He and 16 gang members are in the dock as part of the ‘Marengo’ trial and face charges in relation to the murder of six different people.

So far he is still just a suspect for other murders including that of a criminal lawyer and the brother of the chief witness Nabil B who was once part of his gang.

Few journalists get near the Bunker but Meeus has a spot as close as a hack can get to the infamous criminal.

“When they put him on the international Interpol list for most wanted people there was one photo and he was looking tearfully in a camera and later we got this photo after he was arrested and he looked like an angry old man with a big beard.

"When we saw him in court he more or less looked like that initial photo only a little older and with a short beard but not as wild as he looked when he was lifted,” he tells Crime World.

“He is small. So he is a little guy. I do have to say because of Covid 19 it is really hard to see what is going on in the courtoom and there is a limited amount of reporters there.

"If in the same building you can see a little bit of him but there are Covid screens everywhere to protect you,” he says. But behind glass and 20 metres away from the suspect Meeus can still feel his menace.

”You can tell he is assertive and confident and does not like people to go against him.

"He is assertive and a really powerful character. He is not used to people going against him.”

Meeus says that on the first day of the Marengo trial hearings last week he was outside the Bunker at 7.30am when he witnessed scenes like never before in The Netherlands.

“There was a helicopter high in the sky and two drones came up from a building and then we heard from far way a second chopper coming in.

"It was our military police and it sort of… we saw it coming and it made a u-turn behind us and was hanging right at the entrance of the secure building and there was military police with guns ready to shoot.

"These three Range Rovers come in full speed. One stops right in front of the entrance and the second goes in under the building without slowing down and third ones blocks the entrance so nobody can go in.

"That was Taghi going in. These type of measures, with two choppers and drones, police surrounding a one kilometre radius and watching out at cross roads…….I had never seen that before and it does feel like they are afraid he is going to escape.”

Of course a drama worthy of a Netflix blockbuster is not unheard of. Taghi and his mob have planned escapes before.

A little known fact is that his partner in crime Richard Eduardo Riquelme Vega, nicknamed El Rico (the Rich One), planned to break Noafal Fassih from Mountjoy Prison in Ireland when he was arrested in a Kinahan safehouse.

Prison and Garda authorities here foiled the advanced plan by the cocaine barons to bust Fassih out in 2017 as he faced extradition back to the Netherlands where he would later be tried and convicted of his role in gangland murder.

El Rico, who is originally from Chile had put together a team and was planning to send them to Ireland on the orders that the escape would go ahead irrespective of how many casualties there would be.

It is understood transportation had even been arranged to get Fassih, nicknamed Mr Couscous, out of the country in a move that would have been a huge embarrassment to the Irish government.

Naoufal Fassih

He had been hiding out in Ireland on the run from a European Arrest Warrant and had stayed in Dublin for months courtesy of the Kinahan gang in a luxury €3,000 a month apartment.

While Dutch officers were searching for him in relation to a number of murders he was living it up in the capital using the name Omar Ghazouani on a forged passport.

When he was nabbed as part of the Garda’s crackdown on the Kinahan mob he was found with three watches valued at over €100,000, more than €10,000 in cash and was wearing a pair of €800 Valentino runners.

In custody it was decided to break him out of jail but the plan was foiled when Gardai received intelligence from their European counterparts and moved Fassih to top security Portlaoise Prison which put paid to his escape plans.

They then packaged ‘Mr Couscous’ back to the Netherlands through Baldonnel airport in one of the highest security operations ever conducted in this country.

A Dutch military helicopter was sent to the Irish Defence base for Fassih who was deported in a straitjacket and under armed escort of the elite Emergency Response Unit.

The escape plan is the only credible intelligence that has ever existed in relation to a prison break by drug associates linked to the Kinahan Cartel.

Both El Rico and Taghi are now before the courts in separate trials while Fassih is doing 18 years.

Daniel Kinahan

According to Meeus, the relationship between the Dutch Moroccans and the Kinahan Cartel may form part of the Chilean’s trial but is unlikely to be used in evidence in Taghi’s case.

However it has been reported in The Netherlands how undercover Dubai police watched Daniel Kinahan meet with Ridouan Taghi’s lawyers when they travelled to the UAE to meet their client.

The full interview with Jan Meeus is on the Crime World podcast available on all platforms.

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