Dutch 'anti-Islam' film maker shot dead

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The maker of a film that criticised Islam's treatment of women was murdered in an Amsterdam street yesterday.

The maker of a film that criticised Islam's treatment of women was murdered in an Amsterdam street yesterday.

The killing stoked the vexed debate in the Netherlands about immigration and revived memories of the murder of the politician Pim Fortuyn.

Theo van Gogh, a descendant of the 19th-century artist, was shot and stabbed outside a council office in Linnaeusstraat. A note was left on the body, and a 26-year-old man with dual Dutch-Moroccan nationality was arrested after a gun battle with police that left him wounded.

The attack was condemned by Muslim groups, and by Jan-Peter Balkenende, the Prime Minister, who appealed for the public not to jump to conclusions about the motive. But he added that the killing reminded the public of the assassination of Fortuyn, the maverick anti-immigration campaigner whose murder plunged the Netherlands into a political crisis in March 2002. "On a day like this we are reminded of the murder of Fortuyn. We cannot resign ourselves to such a climate," Mr Balkenende said.

Mr van Gogh was an outspoken film maker who became an unusual celebrity, renowned for being overweight, unkempt and a heavy smoker. He also wrote newspaper columns designed to shock and described himself as an "old reactionary".

In August he produced his most controversial film, entitled Submission. It was written by a right-wing Dutch politician, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was born in Somalia. A member of the Dutch parliament, she has renounced the Islamic faith into which she was born and outraged Muslims by criticising Islamic customs and highlighting immigrants' lack of assimilation into Dutch society.

Submission told the fictional story of a Muslim woman forced into a violent marriage, raped by a relative and brutally punished for adultery.

The work proved highly controversial and led to death threats against Mr van Gogh, though in a recent radio interview he dismissed them and called the film "the best protection I could have. It's not something I worry about".

Witnesses said Mr van Gogh, 47, was attacked at about 9am. He struggled to the other side of the street where he was shot and stabbed again, dying at the scene.

Police said the suspect fired at another person and at police vehicles while fleeing to the nearby Oosterpark. He injured a bystander and an officer who was wearing a bullet-proof vest before the police returned fire, hitting him in the leg.

One witness told the Dutch media that she had heard six shots and saw the suspect, whom she described as bearded and wearing Islamic clothing, concealing a gun.

Another witness told Dutch Radio 1 that the killer arrived by bicycle and shot Mr van Gogh as he got out of a car. "He fell backward on the bicycle path and just lay there. The shooter stayed next to him and waited - waited to make sure he was dead."

Mr Balkenende praised Mr van Gogh as a proponent of free speech who had "outspoken opinions", adding: "It would be unacceptable if a difference of opinion led to this brutal murder."

The place of Muslim immigrants in Dutch society has long been a contentious issue in the Netherlands, and Fortuyn campaigned under the slogan that his country was "full".

The country is home to nearly one million Muslims, or 5.5 per cent of the population, and the Dutch centre-right government has pushed for greater integration of immigrants through language tests and citizenship classes.

It has also caused controversy with plans to repatriate up to 26,000 failed asylum-seekers who have stayed in the country.

Atzo Nicolai, the minister for Europe, described the killing as "really terrible", adding: "It reminds everybody of what happened to Pim Fortuyn."