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Eight held in investigationof Dutch filmmaker's killing

Police in Holland have arrested eight people — all suspected Islamic radicals — in connection with the murder Tuesday of a Dutch filmmaker, in addition to the chief suspect.
Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh in August 2001.Willem Ten Veldhuys / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police arrested eight more suspected Islamic radicals Wednesday in the slaying of a Dutch filmmaker who criticized Muslim customs. Lawmakers questioned why authorities hadn’t kept tabs on the alleged killer, who had a record of violent crime and contacts with a group under surveillance.

The arrests were made in the 24 hours since Theo van Gogh was slain while cycling down an Amsterdam street Tuesday — believed to be the first Islamic terrorist attack in the Netherlands.

Six of the detainees are of Moroccan ancestry, one is Algerian and the last has dual Spanish-Moroccan nationality, prosecution spokeswoman Dop Kruimel said. The eight are in addition to the suspect arrested minutes after the slaying, a 26-year-old Amsterdam resident of Moroccan origin.

European terrorism links?
Their ethnic identities raised questions of links to the March 11 train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid, Spain. Twenty-nine suspects, mostly Moroccans, have been charged in those attacks; others arrested were of Algerian, Spanish, Tunisian and Egyptian origin.

The Netherlands has arrested more than 40 terrorism suspects since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, including many accused of providing logistical support for groups linked to al-Qaida. Muslim youths are thought to have been recruited here, and experts believe a number of cells in the Netherlands provide funding to foreign terrorist cells.

The country is home to 3 million first- or second-generation immigrants, almost 20 percent of the 16 million population. There are about 300,000 Moroccan nationals in the Netherlands.

Kruimel said five of the suspects, whose identities were not released, were detained and released during an October 2003 investigation into a potential terrorist threat.

“They were previously known to us,” Kruimel said. “As of now only one suspect is being held for van Gogh’s murder, but the investigation will determine if others may have been connected.”

Test of tolerance
The Dutch have reacted with outrage to the killing of the filmmaker, testing the nation’s famed tolerance and straining already tense relations with the Muslim immigrant population.

Mainstream Dutch Muslim groups condemned the killing. A number of mosques were closed Tuesday night for fear of vandalism, and political figures were given additional police protection.

Newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported that conservative politician Ayan Hirsi Ali, who wrote the script for van Gogh’s latest provocative movie criticizing the treatment of women under Islam, received a death threat in an e-mail Wednesday that read, “You’re next.”

The Justice Ministry said the suspect in the murder of the 47-year-old filmmaker — a distant relative of painter Vincent Van Gogh — is a Muslim radical associated with Islamic fundamentalists on a terrorist watch list.

Suspect was known
Interior Minister Johan Remkes confirmed that the suspect was known to have associated with a group of 150 radicals who are watched day and night by the Dutch secret service for fear they may commit a terrorist act.

The suspect himself was not on that watch list. Authorities didn’t release his name, and Dutch media identified him only as Mohammed B.

The suspect had contacts with Samir Azzouz, an 18-year-old Moroccan immigrant accused of plotting terrorist attacks against Dutch targets, NOS Dutch television reported.

Members of parliament called for an emergency debate on why the alleged killer — who police say had a record of violent crime — hadn’t been stopped.

“Is this a murder, or is this a terrorist attack?” said Jozias van Aartsen, leader of the conservative VVD party. “The facts must come out very, very quickly.”

Van Gogh released a fictional film in August about the mistreatment of Muslim women. In the film, women were shown naked with texts from the Quran scrawled on their bodies.

Police and eyewitnesses said the attacker shot van Gogh, stabbed him, cut his throat with one knife and pinned a note to his chest with another.

The note is said to have contained texts from the Quran in Arabic, though police would not confirm this. According to NRC Handelsblad, the note called for an Islamic holy war, or jihad.

Prejudices surface
Van Gogh’s killing, which came two years after the murder of populist anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002, stirred outrage and fears that Dutch people will no longer feel free to speak their minds.

Immigration minister Rita Verdonk told 20,000 Dutch who flocked to Amsterdam’s central square for a noisy wake Tuesday night that “we won’t take this.”

In the past two years, the government has passed a series of laws cracking down on violent crime, which is often blamed on immigrants; expanding prosecutors’ wiretapping powers to thwart would-be terrorists; and restricting further immigration.

Verdonk called an emergency meeting with leaders of Muslim groups to discuss how to avoid confrontations, and Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende appealed for calm.

“At moments like this, people’s prejudices come out,” said Masite Halici, a young Dutch woman of Turkish ancestry who came to lay a rose where Van Gogh was killed.

“They are angry, fearful, grieving. But this is not about Muslims or non-Muslims. This is about people being able to say what they think.”