'Extremist' held over film-maker's murder

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The Independent Online

The man suspected of murdering a Dutch film-maker who criticised Islam was known by security services who viewed him as a possible Islamic extremist. The development is likely to polarise the country's fraught debate over immigration and strain the Netherlands' reputation for tolerance.

The man suspected of murdering a Dutch film-maker who criticised Islam was known by security services who viewed him as a possible Islamic extremist. The development is likely to polarise the country's fraught debate over immigration and strain the Netherlands' reputation for tolerance.

Theo van Gogh, a 47-year-old distant descendant of the 19th- century painter, was shot and stabbed in an Amsterdam street on Tuesday morning. Mr van Gogh's film, Submission, was screened in August and told the fictional story of a girl's marriage and rape by her uncle. It was seen as a powerful attack on the treatment of women under Islam.

Two knives were left in his body, one pinning a note to his chest which, Dutch media said, contained lines from the Koran. The front page of the mass-circulation De Telegraaf showed a picture of the victim, lying on the street with the knives protruding from his chest, under the headline: "Butchered".

In a letter to parliament, the Justice Minister, Jan Hein Donner and the Interior Minister, Johan Remkes, urged calm. The government is anxious to avoid a worsening of race relations, tense since the murder of the anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn in 2002.

But feelings were running high and 20,000 people crowded into a square in Amsterdam on Tuesday night in protest at the killing. Muslim organisations condemned the attack but expressed fears about retaliation.

Police arrested 35 people in The Hague on Tuesday for taunting bystanders with anti-immigrant slogans, and Mr Remkes said: "I don't rule out unrest." But the Arab European League criticised the appearance of the Immigration and Integration Minister, Rita Verdonk, at a rally in Amsterdam, accusing her of giving a "Hitler speech, with only the little moustache missing".

The government said the arrested man, who is 26 and has Dutch and Moroccan nationality, had already come to the attention of the AIVD national security service. But he was not among 150 suspected Islamic extremists the service is monitoring. Yesterday, police arrested six other suspected Islamic extremists. "In light of what is known, we should seriously consider that the perpetrator acted from a radical Islamic conviction," Mr Donner and Mr Remkes said. Although the suspect was known to the security service, they said there had been no reason to believe he was preparing an attack.

The Dutch media reported that the suspect had had contact with Samir Azzouz, an 18-year-old who was arrested in June on suspicion of planning attacks on a Dutch nuclear reactor and Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

Mr van Gogh was one of the most divisive figures in the Dutch media and had consistently set out to shock with outspoken commentaries on a range of issues. His newspaper columns, describing imams as women-haters and ridiculing Islam, won him plaudits from some, for championing free speech. But his critics regarded his work as extremist and insulting to Muslims.

Immigration has been near the top of the political agenda since the rise of Mr Fortuyn, whose party came second in a general election just days after he was killed by an animal rights activist. The Netherlands is home to nearly a million Muslims, 5.5 per cent of the population. Surveys show the traditionally tolerant Dutch are growing more hostile to immigration and fearful of Islamic extremism. In the three biggest cities, immigrants make up a third of the population and form a majority among young people.

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