The political career of the Netherlands' most prominent MP was thrown into doubt as an investigation was launched into explosive allegations that she lied about her past in order to gain residence status and Dutch nationality.
Ayann Hirsi Ali, who has won an array of international awards for bravery and free speech, has been accused of making up a story to immigration officers in which she claimed she had fled from a forced, arranged marriage and that she faced persecution in her native Somalia.
A Dutch television documentary, aired last week, featured interviews with Ms Hirsi Ali's family in which her claims of an arranged marriage were denied. The programme also alleged that, contrary to her claims of having fled a war zone in Somalia, the MP had lived in comfortable upper middle-class circumstances safely in Kenya for at least 12 years before she sought refugee status in the Netherlands in 1992. Her family home - which is large and comfortable by Kenyan standards - was shown in the programme.
Rita Verdonk, the Minister for Immigration and a member of Ms Hirsi Ali's own VVD right-wing liberal party, announced a full investigation into the furore last night, insisting that "laws and rules are valid for everyone".
Ms Hirsi Ali, 36, became internationally known when a film she wrote provoked the murder of its controversial director, Theo van Gogh, by an Islamic radical in 2004. With her own life under threat, she went into hiding and still lives under 24-hour protection. She has never, however, strayed far from the international spotlight and has won a string of awards for her battle to raise awareness of the plight of many Muslim women.
When interviewed by the highly-respected Zembla TV programme, Ms Hirsi Ali's family members denied she had been forced into marriage against her will to her former husband, a Somalian man who now lives in Canada, or that she had not been present at the wedding ceremony, as she had previously claimed. The couple are said to have parted amicably and her family denied that she had fled a marriage she did not want.
When questioned by the documentary makers, the MP stuck by her denial of being present at her own wedding. Her brother Mahad Hirsi Magan, who first claimed that his sister did attend her own wedding, has since changed his story.
But Kees Driehuis of Zembla said: "We stick by the content. We spoke to different members of her family and we know that Hirsi Ali has been in touch with her brother since the programme went out. Perhaps that has something to do with it."
Asked whether she had falsified her asylum application, she told the programme: "I lied", but said this had been public knowledge in 2002 when the VVD chose her as a candidate.
Ms Hirsi Ali, whose real name is Hirsi Magan, pretended she had come to the Netherlands from Somalia, rather than via Kenya and Germany. Refugees are usually required to apply for asylum in the first safe country they reach after fleeing.
Ms Hirsi Ali, who said yesterday that she was "puzzled by the uproar," accused her rivals of a co- ordinated political vendetta against her. "Have they all gone mad?" she asked.
Political opponents want her stripped of her Dutch citizenship and deported. Others say she should be expelled from parliament.
The issue is particularly sensitive for the VVD as the party has taken a hard line on immigration, introducing tough new citizenship tests and leading a drive to expel 26,000 failed asylum- seekers. It has said that any foreigner found to have lied about their circumstances should be prohibited from having Dutch citizenship.
Ms Hirsi Ali rose to fame after the murder of Van Gogh in November 2004. Defiant as ever, Ms Hirsi Ali is working on a sequel to the film she made with Van Gogh on Islam's treatment of homosexuality called Submission 2.